A couple of aspirin, a quick chug of water and you were on your way. Occasionally, smelling salts were used. If you took a really big knock to the head, a team doctor would shine a light in your eyes.
“If your pupil constricted, you were fine,” former Islander Bob Nystrom said at the New York Institute of Technology’s Center for Sports Medicine on Thursday. “More than anything else, if you felt good the next day, you’d go out and play without thinking twice about it.”
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Before helmets, before all the technology, before the widespread understanding of the implications of concussions, this was life in the NHL as Nystrom knew it. So as he toured the NYIT facility on Thursday, all he could do was marvel.
“All of this,” Nystrom said, “is just incredible.”
The Center for Sports and Medicine, which offers a wide array of concussion services and therapies, treats all 180 athletes at NYIT and all of the approximately 500 athletes at neighboring LIU Post.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like if we had all of this at our disposal back then,” Nystrom said. “That’s why I’m getting involved now.”
Nystrom — one of the last hockey players to play professionally without a helmet — and the staff at the Center for Sports Medicine spoke during Thursday’s open house about the importance of baseline testing (establishing an athlete’s cognitive and neurological conditions before an injury).
“And then when they come in,” neurologist Adena Leder said, “we retest them and immediately get a computer-generated comparison.”
Added Hallie Zwibel, director of sports medicine at NYIT: “Baseline testing is imperative. It’s education. It makes the athlete more aware, the coaches more aware, and helps dramatically if an injury does occur.”
Nystrom, who earned the nickname “Mr. Islander” for spending his entire 14-year career with the Islanders and helping the team win four consecutive Stanley Cups, said it’s difficult to estimate how many concussions he had while playing in the NHL.
“I was knocked out cold four times,” he said. “But there were plenty of other times during the course of a game that I could barely see the puck because my eyes were flashing that bad.
“One time, the year that I got married, I got hit at training camp and I couldn’t remember that I had gotten married. My wife wasn’t too happy about that.”
Nystrom, whose career concluded in 1986, still feels the effects of those hits.
“My short-term memory wasn’t what it was,” he said. “I definitely have moments of some serious anger, and I think that that’s probably from all the hits. That’s one of the things that I’d like to prevent from happening with young kids. That’s why this center is so important.”