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Hockey federation launches concussion task force

The International Ice Hockey Federation has launched a special task force to find out why concussions are plaguing the sport and would back a complete overhaul of the game if that would eradicate them.

The committee, which was announced Thursday prior to the World Junior Championship gold-medal game between Russia and Sweden, will reach out to specialists – such as physicians who treated superstar Sidney Crosby – coaches, former players and equipment experts as well as the National Hockey League.

"It would be great if we could arrive at something where there would be a global initiative to change the game in all aspects," said IIHF vice-president Murray Costello, who will head the committee.

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The former NHL player, who is also chairman of the federation's medical committee, has been advocating the removal of head shots from the game for a decade and aims to make the sport safer for players at all levels around the world. Mr. Costello said that change won't come quickly and there may be opposition, but officials shouldn't rule out rethinking body-checking, slowing down the pace by again outlawing the two-line pass, altering equipment or even the size of the ice surface.

"[We]have the opportunity to bring the best people we can find together to work with us to try and nail down the problems in the game and the best way to overcome them," Mr. Costello said.

The NHL has a players' safety committee and has implemented certain rule changes in an effort to reduce head injuries. But it has not yet ordered an outright ban on hits to the head.

The safety-first message, however, is getting through to younger players, IIHF officials said. During the juniors tournament in Alberta, only one player was suspended leading up to the gold-medal game for a check to the head area, while last year in Buffalo, five players were suspended.

At least two players at this year's tournament, however, were kept out of games because of concussion-like symptoms. Switzerland's Sven Bartschi, a first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames, was sidelined after being hit in the head during a game against Sweden, while Finland lost Olli Maata. The 17-year-old defenceman plays for the OHL's London Knights and sat out Thursday's bronze-medal game.

"All what we will look at will be geared toward keeping the spectacle as attractive as it really is," Mr. Costello said, "while returning respect for the game, respect for the players in the game, respect for each other and respect for themselves when they play it."

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Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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