Braeden King is flanked by his Killarney Raiders high school hockey teammates following the team’s provincial title two years ago. King never played a single game in the tournament due to a head injury suffered during a league playoff game. (FACEBOOK)
The lawyer representing a former Killarney high school hockey player who was knocked unconscious during a playoff game believes coaches could have done more to prevent the injury.
"Our allegation is that (the coaches) didn’t take any steps to educate their players on safe body contact and shots to the head," said Jason Harvey, a lawyer representing ex-Killarney Raiders high school hockey player Braeden King, who is still suffering from concussion symptoms more than two years after the hit.
"(Turtle Mountain School Division) is vicariously liable for the action of the two coaches," Harvey said during a telephone interview from his office in Winnipeg.
King is suing the division, Boissevain Broncos high school hockey coaches Travis Laing and Corey Billaney and Bronco player Patrick Vandoorne.
He is seeking unspecified special and general damages for costs associated with medical care, transportation and legal costs as well as his future earning capacity — something that will be determined through the court proceedings, if the allegations are proven true.
"It’s hard (to put a value on the damages) given the type of injury," Harvey said. "We’ll need someone to look into the future and predict what will happen with Braeden."
In a recent statement of claim filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench, Harvey states that King was engaged with another Broncos player on the ice during a Feb. 19, 2010, playoff game, and in a vulnerable position, when "Vandoorne raced toward the plaintiff and, without gliding, jumped at the plaintiff, hitting him in the head with his elbow and/or shoulder." As a result of that hit, King lost consciousness and has since suffered from concussion-related injuries.
"It’s made a significant impact on his life and our hope is that he makes a full recovery, but it doesn’t look promising," Harvey said.
The lawsuit claims that Vandoorne demonstrated aggressive behaviour toward Raiders players during their Westman High School Hockey League (WHSHL) playoff series and that he "intentionally and/or recklessly inflicted harm and injury to the plaintiff through the hit."
King states that Laing and Billaney breached their duty as high school hockey coaches by failing to prevent or discourage Vandoorne from continuing to engage in aggressive and unsportsmanlike play, failing to punish Vandoorne for that play and failing to teach their players proper play and the dangers associated with hits to the head of opponents.
Although the hit wasn’t penalized by the officials on the ice during the game, King claims it violates the rules of play in the WHSHL.
Concussions have garnered more attention in the last decade as more medical information has become available regarding the long-term effects of the injury. NHL superstar Sidney Crosby has missed significant time due to a head injury, and Harvey believes the game is undergoing a metamorphosis.
"The climate of hockey is undergoing a significant change when it comes to what is an acceptable hit and what isn’t," Harvey said. "Whether it is the NHL that says we have to protect players or whether it is the grassroots that says kids can’t grow up with concussion and all sorts of problems with head injuries. We haven’t seen the end of it."
Harvey doesn’t buy the argument that the hit Vandoorne delivered to King is part of the game, or at the very least one of the unfortunate accidents that occur throughout the course of a hockey game.
"If you look back into the ’50s and ’60s on the ice — stick swinging, eye gouging — now you would say they should be criminally charged for something like that," Harvey said.
"We look at that now and say that it was barbaric. It may very well be that 20 years from now, we look back and say those shots to the head that people thought were OK, are going through the same process."
Harvey compared shots to the head to hitting from behind, which was considered to be an epidemic in the game less than two decades ago.
"It’s not out of the game, but the horrible stories about people becoming paraplegics have slowed down," Harvey said. "I think the same thing will happen with head shots and how to hit properly. What will be required is a culture shift into the purpose of body contact — not to wear down, injure or inflict as much punishment as possible on your opponent, but to do what it is supposed to do, which is to create separation from the puck and generate offence or defence."
TMSD Supt. Larry Rainnie said "the division is preparing to defend against the statement of claim," but offered no other comment.
Phone calls to the insurance adjuster for the defendants were not returned.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 20, 2012