Concussions end Tommies captain Matt Eagles hockey career

Tommies captain Matt Eagles dressed for the final men’s game at the Lady Beaverbrook Rink last month, but did not play. (Shane Magee/AQ file photo)

Matt Eagles, captain of St. Thomas University’s men’s hockey team, got news he never expected to hear from his doctor last week.

He walked into Dr. JoAnne Savoie’s office and sat down to go over the results of his test.

She told him his hockey career was over.

Because of the concussions he’s had, she said it was time to put down his stick for good.

“She recommended that I not put myself at risk for any more head trauma,” said Eagles. “Which basically means that you can’t play.”

It came as a shock to Eagles who was fully expecting to play next year. He had already begun training for the next hockey season.

Eagles has had about 10 concussions in his lifetime. He spent a large majority of this Tommies’ season on the bench because of three almost consecutive concussions he suffered this year.

After the last concussion, he started to get worried.

“I definitely felt there was a big lag time in my recovery from the last [concussion] and that’s what concerned me more than the other concussions I’ve had.”

Concussions are caused when a person’s head receives any kind of shock, such as a blow or even extraordinarily fast acceleration, which causes the brain to slam into the skull. This causes temporary damage to the brain and changes the way it processes energy.

So Eagles knew he had to get an expert to take a look at him. He went to Savoie because she had approached his father, STU’s athletics director Mike Eagles, before about doing studies on athletes with concussions. A few months ago she helped open the Athletic Concussion Management Clinic in Fredericton. She also works as a neurophysiologist at the Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Centre.

Savoie said it wasn’t easy when she decided to tell Eagles he shouldn’t play anymore.

“It’s really difficult. It’s not black and white,” she said, explaining it was impossible to tell which concussion could do permanent damage. The risk goes up with each one.

This made Eagles especially vulnerable for permanent physical and psychological damage if he continued to play hockey. Possible permanent effects vary for people who’ve suffered from too many concussions. There can be physical, cognitive or even emotional changes, which could drastically alter someone’s life or personality.

Patrick Carmichael, head trainer for St. Thomas athletics, said he wasn’t surprised by the news about Eagles. He said he’s seen all the symptoms of an extraordinarily bad concussion from him.

“I was saddened, but at the same time I was kind of happy,” he said. “Because you don’t want to see someone go back in the sport, give them the okay, and then receive another concussion and end up…you know.”

Concussions heal themselves over time and people with them are advised to rest, meaning no excessive movement and no excessive brain activity.

Carmichael is able to relieve concussion symptoms using craniofacial therapy. However, results vary from person to person.

Some doctors recommend students don’t even attend school while suffering from a concussion.

Eagles’ father, Mike, who used to coach the men’s hockey team, said his main concern has always been for the health and safety of the players. He said it’s easier to help players with concussions today than when he was a player in the NHL between 1983 and 2000.

“Players [back then] might have had multiple concussions but only had one diagnosed,” he said.

Now, he said, players are “more aware of the dangers of concussions.” They report their symptoms more and take their recovery seriously.

There is no protocol or standard procedure regarding concussions for St. Thomas’ athletics department. Most cases are handled person to person based on the seriousness of the injury. All players who get an injury, like a concussion, have to see a doctor and get examined before they can play again.

For Mike Eagles, it’s difficult to see his son cope with the news, but he’s also glad that he stopped playing before doing permanent damage to himself.

“His mother and I are [still] extremely proud of him,” Mike Eagles said.

For Matt Eagles, his life has changed completely, but he said he still wants to be part of the team in some way. It’s just a matter of finding out what he can do.

Despite the shock and suddenness of the news, Eagles has already come to terms with it. He has to.

“As disappointing as my situation is right now, I have no regrets. I played the game the way I needed to play the game, and I only knew one way to play the game.”

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