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Concussion victim Booth says 'Use your head'

In this Oct. 24, 2009, file photo, a person signals to the bench after checking on Florida Panthers forward David Booth, who was injured in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The NHL's new rule banning blindside hits to the head is called "Rule 48. It easily could be named after victims David Booth and Marc Savard, or offenders Mike Richards and Matt Cooke, who might be the last players to get away with such shots unscathed. For the first time, a lateral or blindside hit on an opponent in which the head is targeted or is the main area of impact will not only be subject to supplemental discipline, but a major penalty and ejection from the game. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Matt Slocum

One of the peculiar byproducts of the NHL's increasing concussion awareness is how the patients start to sound like the doctors after a while. This occurs mostly because the flow of information about head trauma is growing quickly and the victims need as much up-to-the-minute information as possible to know how their injuries will play out, in the long and short term.

So here is David Booth, the Florida Panthers forward who led the team in goal scoring two years ago and was considered a mainstay in a rebuilding organization. He got smacked on the side of the head by Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers in October of 2009 and, left dazed and confused, was unable to play in 54 of 82 games last season.

Richards' hit on Booth set in motion the new blindside headshot rule adopted by the NHL last season, as league disciplinarian Colin Campbell acknowledged on a conference call with reporters before the start of the season.

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In talking to Booth, it becomes clear he is a reasonable voice in what is surely going to continue as a heated debate, if all the concussions in the early going this season are any indication.

The NHL has had a bizarre run of them already. Since no two concussions are alike, it's difficult to define the cause and introduce a one-size-fits-all rule to limit them. For example, Raitis Ivanans of the Calgary Flames took a punch in the chops from Edmonton Oilers winger Steve MacIntyre. Does the league ban fighting? It wouldn't hurt.

Cam Janssen of the St. Louis Blues was run over by his own player, Brad Winchester. Hard to throw the book at Winchester, but maybe recklessness should be punished even under those circumstances. Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec fainted and was concussed when his head hit the ice, a freakish event that probably isn't going to happen again any time soon.

Booth, who has resumed playing this season, acknowledged the range of causes in an interview prior to the Panthers' date Thursday with the Flames: No matter how stringently you may police the sport, some head injuries will inevitably occur. His concern is to get the headhunting out of the game, something he believes is easier said than done.

"No matter what the rules are, rules are always broken," said Booth, adding optimistically, "But as the rules get stricter, it starts to eliminate more things, and that's what we're trying to do."

This week, Campbell suspended Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson for two games for a hit from behind on Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville, an incident that did not fall into the parameters covered by the new headshot rule because Hjalmarsson didn't make contact with Pominville's head. It was the force of the collision that propelled Pominville into the boards and left him concussed.

Booth saw only a brief replay of the incident, but thought it was unnecessary and could have been avoided. To Booth, if a player is intelligent enough to make it to the NHL, he should also be smart enough to know the difference between a legal hit designed to separate a player from the puck and one that puts an opponent's health in jeopardy, the way Pominville's is right now.

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"I mean, you can't give a guy a free pass either," Booth said. "That's when you've just got to think - make contact, but within reason. You can't just level a guy right in the boards from behind. You've just got to use your head."

Other players convalescing from head injuries include René Bourque of the Flames, New York Islanders sophomore John Tavares, Dallas Stars rookie Jamie Benn, New Jersey Devils defenceman Bryce Salvador and Peter Mueller, the Colorado Avalanche centre who was hurt last year and suffered a recurrence in training camp. Still others are recuperating from the effects of concussions last year - Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard, who is finally starting to do some light training; Philadelphia Flyers winger Ian Laperrière, who may retire; and free agent Paul Kariya, who is sitting out the season as a result of postconcussion syndrome. Who knows if Kariya, 36, will play again?

Things appear to be okay for Booth, to the point where he says the only time he thinks about last year is when the matter is raised by reporters. His spirits seem good, and he is far more animated talking about hockey and the challenges facing the rebuilding Panthers than he is as the spokesman for this emotional issue.

"The last couple of games, I've been out there 20 minutes and I got into the flow of the game and I'm close," he said. "If it doesn't come in the first two games, or the first four or six, you don't give up. It's a long season. You go in spurts in this league and you play on momentum.

"No matter what, I'm excited to play games and I'm having fun and that's what's most important."

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