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B.C. junior hockey league hires concussion care specialist

One of B.C.'s junior hockey leagues has enlisted a specialist doctor to help them more effectively manage player concussions and ensure teenage players are not injured severely.

Dr. Michael Czarnota, a neuropsychologist who works with major junior leagues across Canada, has been tasked with improving the concussion protocols in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL).

The KIJHL is a junior A hockey league that caters to youth between 16 and 20 years old, with 19 teams in the southern Interior of B.C. and one in Washington state.

Its move to improve concussion standards comes amid more research showing the prevalence of concussions in hockey, with the brain injury leading to long-term consequences even for youth and junior hockey players.

"We want to work on making sure that players, coaches, parents, trainers all recognize an injury when they see it," Czarnota told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "That's the most important thing." 

The neuropsychologist says there is growing awareness of the head injury among the hockey fraternity, and it is no longer acceptable to put a player back on the ice immediately after a suspected concussion.

"Going back to play while symptomatic just seems to make the injury worse," he said. "We need the players to be symptom-free before they go back to play."

Cory Cameron, the health and safety director for the KIJHL, said Czarnota's appointment would mean the league could design a specific concussion protocol that would best fit its players.

"A lot of our teams are in smaller centres. They might have limitations on some of [the] medical professionals they can access," he said.

"I've already had some conversations with teams that will be tapping into resources