Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The concussion conundrum of Chase Souto

Chase Souto (39) of the Kamloops Blazers isn't afraid
to venture into enemy territory.

(Photo by Murray Mitchell / Kamloops Daily News)
Daily News Sports Editor
Chase Souto, a sophomore left winger with the Kamloops Blazers, had a hunch that he was feeling the effects of the third concussion of his young WHL career.
Immediately after the elbow hit his head near the middle of the second period, there was dizziness. Within minutes, the headache arrived like a salesman pounding on your door. It was Sept. 10 and the Blazers were involved in an exhibition game against the Rockets in Kelowna. It being an exhibition game, it meant that if you got into a fight you would be ejected.
Souto, a 17-year-old from Yorba Linda, Calif., did just that. He scrapped with Tyrell Goulbourne and got tossed, which meant he could hide the concussion from trainer Colin (Toledo) Robinson.
“I tried to do that. I tried to hide it from Toledo . . . I’m not going to lie,” Souto said. “I did that fight so I could get out of the game without telling him.”
The next day, Souto was disoriented. He was sensitive to light. He didn’t want to eat.
What to do?
“I was a little scared . . . I didn’t know what would happen next,” Souto said Tuesday after practising in a yellow (‘Don’t hit me!’) jersey at Interior Savings Centre.
He talked with Jack Bowkus, his coach back in California, but didn’t know whether to tell him. Bowkus knows all about the WHL. He played four seasons (1984-88) with the Saskatoon Blades.
Souto said: “I was, like, should I tell him? Should I hope it’s a little one and it’ll go away?”
On Sept. 12, two days after the elbow hit his jaw, Souto was back on the ice.
“I skated,” he said, “and it didn’t feel right.”
By now he was most concerned.
“Crosby has taken eight months to recover,” he said, “and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Yes, NHL star Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins hasn’t played since the first week of January and concussions, or the care and prevention of same, are very much in the spotlight.
Unfortunately for Souto, he knows all about them.
The first concussion, he said, was the worst. But the second one “hurt the worst, by far.”
This one, No. 3 if you will, “was probably the scariest because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The first one . . .
Just four games into last season, forward Blair Wentworth laid out Souto in the neutral zone in Chilliwack’s Prospera Centre.
Wentworth drew a two-game suspension for the hit. The resulting concussion cost Souto seven games and he was listed as a healthy scratch in three of the four games after he was cleared to play.
“I was skating to dump the puck in,” recalled Souto, who got hit in the area between the benches. “I was unconscious. I don’t remember after the first period. I woke up with Toledo looking down at me. I came to in the dressing room.”
Souto learned from the first concussion that you can’t hurry back from this type of injury.
He thought he was symptom-free when he returned to off-ice workouts, but quickly learned otherwise.
“I started getting headaches because I wasn’t fully recovered yet,” he said. “That set me back a little bit.”
The second one . . .
It occurred in the season’s 64th game, as the Blazers were playing the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook.
“As soon as it happened, I knew,” Souto said. “I didn’t lose consciousness but I knew I had one. I got really shaky and I felt like I didn’t have enough sugar in my body or something like that. I was trying to eat PowerBars and drink water on the bench but that didn’t do anything. When I went in the locker-room, I knew.”
Asked if either of the hits that resulted in concussions might have been avoided, Souto responded:
 Continued from A8
“The first one for sure . . . I think he was trying to hurt me there. The second one . . . I think he was just finishing his check and I got caught in the wrong spot.” Souto isn’t even sure which Ice player hit him.
Souto missed four games after the second concussion. He then returned for two games before sitting out the final two games of the regular season.
And now Souto is recovering from No. 3. He talks about playing Saturday when the Blazers open their regular season against the visiting Prince George Cougars. But the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes tell you that he knows that is most unlikely.
“I feel really good now,” he said. “I could play tomorrow. “
Then he paused and grinned.
“Ahh,” he said. “I probably couldn’t . . . doctors.”
When Souto returns will be up to the Blazers’ medical staff. That responsibility no longer rests in the hands of team trainers and athletic therapists. Robinson couldn’t be more pleased because concussions, he said, may be the most difficult thing with which he deals.
“It isn’t black and white,” the veteran trainer said. “It’s purple and green and yellow. They are so frustrating. Each one is unique.”
Souto, again, is into protection mode. What will he do to better protect himself in an attempt to avoid No. 4?
“I will try to protect myself more, not put myself in vulnerable positions like I did,” he said.
That might be easier said than done because Souto earned a roster spot a year ago in no small part because of his high energy level.
He admitted that he was trying to make an impression a year ago, something he doesn’t feel he needs to do now.
“A little bit, yeah,” he said. “But I didn’t know that these guys I was playing against were so much bigger and stronger.”
And now, after the latest concussion, he said he may alter something else, too.
“I might have to change my game up a little bit and not be so yappy to the other team or something like that,” Souto said. “Me and him (Kelowna’s Tanner Moar) were chirping back and forth all game.”
While it would be nice to cut down on the number of concussions — there were more than 100 in the WHL last season — Souto believes concussions, at least to some degree, are here to stay.
“When a guy’s got his head down coming down the middle of the ice,” he said, “it’s pretty tough to make sure you don’t hit any part of his head. Someone is going to hit it.”
He also pointed out that a player can get concussed without being hit in the head.
“Whiplash . . . your head goes back or it hits the ice . . . that’s the sport we play,” he said.
Souto finished last season with five points, including four goals, and 72 penalty minutes in 49 games. Oddly enough, he ended up with almost as many fighting majors (8) as minor penalties (11).
“If you’re willing to drop the gloves, you know the risks you’re taking, I think,” he said. “If some guy gets jumped, that’s a different story. But if two guys drop the gloves, they know what they’re getting into.”
During a recent news conference, Crosby called for a complete ban on headshots. While he agrees with Crosby, Souto wonders if that is possible.
“That would be a perfect world,” Souto said, “and unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world.”
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