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Concussion concerns tackled head-on

Sidney Crosby. Jochen Hecht. Ryan Miller. Daniel Briere.

Those are just some of the National Hockey League players who have suffered at least one concussion within the past calendar year, with Sid the Kid -- the Penguins star and face of the NHL -- going through a second bout of post-concussion syndrome and Hecht, the longtime Sabres forward, going through a tough time while dealing with his third concussion.

Scary situations for sure, even though concussions and contact sports go hand-and-hockey glove. The concussion threat is one that's being taken seriously and not just in the pros.

The Amherst Knights and Niagara Junior Purple Eagles are among the area youth hockey organizations to make arrangements with local neurologists this season to offer the option of baseline testing for players ages 10 and over.

Amherst, in conjunction with medical groups including Dent Neurologic Institute and Excelsior, began offering computer testing for its players in November. Amherst board member Bob Schell said most of the players in the organization have taken advantage of the option, in which doctors record a set of tests and results and have data to compare retests for players who have suffered a concussion.

Amherst brass notes that, at least this year, the tests are a service players can use with their own physicians, and not the association, to seek clearance to return to game action.

Those who suffer a concussion once are more susceptible to suffering future ones.

"We've had a remarkable turnout and I think part of that is just the publicity concussions have had the past few months and I think the most notable being Sidney Crosby," Schell said. "The seriousness of brain injuries, especially the brain of a youth, they're developing. A brain injury could be something that lasts a lifetime if not treated and people aren't careful."

That's why the Niagara Junior Purple Eagles struck an agreement two weeks ago with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and UB Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine to provide a comprehensive sports medicine/concussion management program.

While USA Hockey has worked with coaches to help them recognize symptoms of a possible concussion via online modules and has put in rules to ban bodychecking until players reach the Bantam level, the baseline testing is another way of helping protect the youths.

"There's no real protocol in place. That's what we're trying to establish," Junior Purple Eagles President Bob Schneider said. "We're trying to raise the awareness, what to look for and let [coaches and parents] know if there is a question, then it's better to have the kid sit out than to go back in there and [possibly] suffer a second concussion."

Dan Carrow and Tony Valvo were among the Niagara parents watching their sons play Wednesday night against the Buffalo Bisons' Pee Wee Major team. Carrow and Valvo have embraced the idea of being able to take their boys in for the ImPACT (Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test -- a 30-minute exam on a computer that serves as a valid guideline for two years.

"I think it's a good idea," Valvo said. "Kids are getting concussions and players are getting concussions left and right. It's something that has to be done. It's such a gray area. It's not like a broken arm and you do an X-ray [to see if it's healed]. This way you have something to base it on."

Carrow played football, basketball and baseball during his youth and remembers the days when a player would simply sit out a play or two with a suspected concussion and return to the game.

That approach is something his two hockey-playing sons won't experience. He plans on both taking the test.

"I think youth sports as a whole are so much more competitive," Carrow said. "Our children are starting much younger, much more is expected at an earlier age than when we played and when we were growing up and I think this baseline testing and this type of approach is just indicative of the culture that we're seeing now. It's something I think is necessary where 30 years ago, not as much."

For Junior Purple Eagles, the cost is $20 since the test isn't covered by insurance. Amherst Youth Hockey, at least for this year, paid test fees for its players.

"It's something we thought was worthwhile," said Schell as to why Amherst didn't ask parents to pay for it.

Both organizations stress the tests aren't mandatory (Southtowns Stars Association is working on an agreement to be able to offer baseline concussion testing, too), but think of the baseline tests as an extra layer of padding in a helmet. It's all about extra protection.

"You want to do all you can for the children that play and you want to ensure their safety at all times and I think this is a big part of that," Carrow said.

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Southtowns rebounds

Southtown Stars Association is almost in good financial standing after being short-changed of more than $120,000 from 2005 to '08 by Count Me In, an online credit-card processing company no longer used by the association for player registrations.

"We're back to pretty close to even and recouped close to everything," association President Pete LaCongo said. "We did it through fundraising and a couple bucks extra on our registration [fees]."

There's still work to be done, however, as the association will hold its annual comedy night at 7 p.m. next Saturday at the Lake Erie Italian Club in Lackawanna. Tickets cost $25 and include dinner, drinks and a show. Dann Pordum will be the host and among the funnymen expected to be in attendance are WGR Sports Radio's Greg Bauch and Toronto Comedy Fest winner Marc Sinodinos. For tickets, contact Caitie Lafferty, caitlinlafferty@me.com.

On March 3, the association will have its annual BW's Chicken Barbecue beginning at noon outside Leisure Rinks.

Southtowns was just one of 220 organizations owed a total of $5 million by CMI two years ago. CMI went into involuntary bankruptcy but still has a website in operation suggesting it's still in business.

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Around the boards

*Kudos to the Wheatfield Blades Bantam Majors, who recently won the Syracuse Crunch Tournament.

*The Buffalo Junior Sabres Under-18 team hosts a Tier I Elite League Showcase Tournament today and Sunday at Holiday Twin Rinks. Buffalo plays at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. today and 10 a.m. Sunday.

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com