Brian Rolston is the Most Recent and Least Obvious Concussion Victim

The above video shows all of Brian Rolston’s shifts from the Islanders’ game against Dallas last night (my apologies for the blurriness of my non-HDTV). He would play only five shifts and would not return after the first period. Rolston played five rather unremarkable shifts and they’re not unremarkable necessarily because he didn’t register on the statsheet but rather because there is no specific moment he clearly got concussed. He takes a hit and later gives one during his first shift, neither of which knock him off his feet or are particularly suspect. He continues on with relatively little physical contact throughout the following four shifts. So what happened? Where’s the injury?

I don’t ask those questions to doubt the validity of the injury report — the Islanders announced Rolston had been diagnosed with a concussion during the third period. Rolston’s a veteran player who’s tough and wouldn’t be taken out of a game unless it was serious. Look no further than his career numbers. He’s played 80+ games in a season eight times in his career. In 11 years, he’s played 77+. Again, this isn’t about doubting the injury or the diagnosis.

This is about how quirky and minute concussions can be. They can add up over time and may be the result of lots of small or medium sized hits. Sometimes, it’s the cumulative effect of these lesser hits that can also do damage. Of course, the big jarring hit can do all kinds of damage. Take one look at Mark Fistric’s hit on Nino Niederreiter. No one has to guess about where the injury occurred. But in Rolston’s case, it could be the result of small or medium sized hits. To try and be more certain, I went back over the game tape from the previous game on Tuesday in Montreal (thank you DVR). I’m not going to bore you with the video but Rolston’s shifts were just as lacking in physicality as his shifts from Thursday. He was credited with no hits on the score sheet and I don’t believe he took one either. Your guess is as good as mine as to when, or how, this happened.

While the NHL’s focus is on the big hits such as Andy Sutton launching himself into Alex Ponikarovsky’s nostrils — and rightfully so — there’s an odd lingering question about all the smaller hits that I don’t see being addressed. The clean ones, the light ones, ‘the hockey plays’ as I believe they’re called. If we’re to believe that Brian Rolston is out any significant length of time thanks to what pretty much looks like an unexplained concussion, then how much damage are the cumulative effect of all these small hits having? Or is this an isolated incident?

I really wonder what happened to Rolston and it speaks to just how physical the game can be, even if it doesn’t look like it on television. Rolston isn’t a fighter, so he’s not blatantly getting punched in the face. He’s not a big hitter and there’s no evidence of him being on the receiving end of any big shots. Furthermore, this isn’t some nagging injury as this is a player who hasn’t missed a game yet this year due to injury (he has missed two as a healthy scratch). Hopefully for Rolston’s sake it’s a very mild concussion, as whatever caused it may have been a very mild hit. But no matter the severity a concussion is still a brain injury and calling it ‘mild’ just doesn’t make it sound much better.