Study examines player safety in hockey games

SFU PhD student found head injuries to be common during gameplay

Image Courtesy of SFU Men's Hockey via Facebook

Written by: Mahdi Dialden, News Writer

SFU PhD student Olivia Aguiar and her team at the Injury Prevention and Mobility Laboratory have conducted research on the impact of physical incidents amongst the SFU men’s hockey team. The project began in 2014, and Aguiar joined as part of her graduate studies in 2017. The aim was to attend SFU men’s university-level hockey games and record hits throughout the games. 

In an interview with The Peak, Aguiar explained their process: “We set up cameras around the rink, so we [were] recording what’s going on simultaneously with the game camera, and [captured] head-impact events.” Head-impact events refers to all types of physical contact that occur to a certain players’ head during a game. 

The study showed that “players were just as likely to experience a hit to the head from the opposing player’s body or body part, as they were to contact their head with the environment, [such as] the glass.” Aguiar added that, “The opposing player’s hand was twice as [ . . . ] likely to contact the head as the shoulder.” 

According to Aguiar, it becomes a problem when researchers want to bring this issue to the forefront of hockey conversations. “All these hits to the head, that [are] sustained as being part of the game, could potentially have consequences down the road.” She thinks that there is a need to “shift the culture” to make the game safer. With this in mind, Aguiar believes that research brings an objective view, as it allows others to “examine things that [ . . . ] a player might not notice.”

Aguiar thinks that she and her colleagues can eventually influence the game by bringing hockey stakeholders to the conversation. She maintains that it’s pivotal that the subjects of the study are included in the conversation. “Having dialogues with stakeholders, [ . . . ] to understand how they perceive head impacts [ . . . ] [can be used] as an opportunity to hopefully educate them on what we’ve been observing and find a middle ground there,” she added.

As a former SFU student-athlete, Aguiar said that her “passion for sports fuelled [her] to enter the field.” When asked what motivated her to join the hockey project, she said, “My love of science and sport, and just trying to make it a better experience [in the] the long term for these athletes.” 

Previewing the next chapter for the hockey project, Aguiar said that they, “will be integrating the sensor measure with the video data, that will give [them] a snapshot of the severity of the head impact as well as the characteristics of [them].” They’ll eventually “be able to identify most common and severe scenarios and what they look like,” she explained. 

For her thesis, Aguiar wants to conduct “interviews with stakeholders from SFU and local hockey clubs and communities [to] get an idea of how they perceive head impact, and what they think are the most feasible solutions.” Her end goal is to “[act] as the middle women [ . . . ] the bridge between the sports community and the science communities.”

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