Max Adolph retired on Tuesday.
You can bet the news didn’t cause even a ripple in Shawinigan, Que., where major junior hockey is playing out its season at the Memorial Cup tournament.
He was a fourth-round selection by the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL’s 2007 bantam draft. Adolph’s WHL career ended after just 97 regular-season games, 36 of them in 2010-11, none of them this season. He leaves with 16 points and 52 penalty minutes to his credit.
In the summer of 2009, his parents sent him to Kelowna as a 17-year-old centre with big dreams. He returned to the family home in Saskatoon three years later, having experienced six concussions.
“After assessment from our doctors, we’re doing what is in the best interest of Max,” Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ president and general manager, said at the time. “Our medical team has advised Max to avoid body contact and shut his season down for now.”
Adolph, the son of U of Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Dave Adolph, never played again.
Concussion-related problems limited Max to 36 games in 2010-11. He suffered a concussion on Oct. 30, 2010, in Portland, returned in January and was knocked out of the lineup again with another head injury. He tried to return in February but was gone again after just two weeks.
Adolph attended training camp prior to this season but suffered yet another concussion in an exhibition game and was sent home.
“At the time,” Adolph, who turned 20 on April 1, told Regan Bartel, the veteran radio voice of the Rockets, “(going home) didn’t seem like the best decision. But now, (after) going to school and looking back at it, I think it was the better decision rather than risk more injuries and turning into a vegetable.”
It is inconceivable that a WHL player, a young man who has so much to live for, is even thinking about “turning into a vegetable.”
Yes, the time has come for the WHL to take its head out of the sand and get serious about head injuries.
You may recall almost a year ago that the WHL, with great fanfare, announced a seven-step plan aimed at addressing the issues of headshots and concussions.
“The WHL is fully committed to addressing head blows and concussions in a comprehensive manner,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a news release.
The WHL, whose teams had experienced more than 100 concussions during the 2010-11 season, immediately stopped reporting specific injuries on its weekly injury report. Instead, every injury was either of the lower- or upper-body variety. You can bet, however, that concussions didn’t decrease this season in the WHL.
It is time, then, for the WHL to stop with the lip service and do something about the concussions. It is time to start walking the walk.
Any contact with an opponent’s head, no matter how incidental, should be greeted with at least a minor penalty. Referees need to stop erring on the side of caution — more major penalties and game misconducts need to be assessed for headshots.
Richard Doerksen, the WHL’s vice-president, hockey, handles discipline. He needs to stop with the one- and two-game suspensions; he needs to start with five and work up from there.
It also is time for the WHL to outlaw fighting. Granted, a small number of concussions are the result of fights, but even one is too many. A fighting major should be accompanied by a game misconduct. There also should be a sliding suspension scale for those inclined to fight on a regular or semi-regular basis.
And please don’t try feeding me the nonsense about how getting rid of fighting will lead to an increase in stickwork. There are referees on the ice who should be calling the penalties.
Remember, too, that as the Edmonton Oil Kings play through the aforementioned Memorial Cup, their roster is missing two players.
Veteran forward Colton Stephenson retired without playing even one game this season. Five concussions meant his career line ended with 17 points in 70 games. Stephenson will turn 20 on July 16.
Jesse Pearson, a defenceman who turned 21 on March 13, got into 18 games last season. He never played again after suffering a concussion in a fight on Dec. 17, 2010. Pearson now is an assistant coach with the Oil Kings.
The list of players who have retired due to concussion-related issues grows longer and longer. It includes Jesse Wallin, the Red Deer Rebels’ general manager and head coach, Kelowna assistant coach Ryan Cuthbert, former Tri-City Americans forward Taylor Procyshen and on and on.
That list now includes Max Adolph. It soon may include Joey Hishon.
You may remember him from the 2011 Memorial Cup. It was May 21, 2011, when Hishon, a forward in his fourth season with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack, was on the receiving end of an ugly elbow to the head from Kootenay Ice defenceman Brayden McNabb.
McNabb was suspended for one game. This season, he played 25 games with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and another 45 with their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
A first-round selection by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2010 NHL draft, Hishon hasn’t played since May 21, 2011.