The Messier Project: Mark Messier Leads Fight against Concussions in Hockey

Rob CristinoCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2009

Mark Messier is one of the greatest players to ever play in the National Hockey League and is often considered by many to be one of the greatest sports leaders of all-time.

Throughout his very impressive Hall-of-Fame career, 25 seasons in the NHL, Messier was not only the definition of a leader but a natural-born winner as well.

Messier’s credentials as a hockey player and ambassador for the game speaks for itself:  2007 Hall-of-Fame Inductee, six-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner, two-time Lester B. Pearson Award winner, Conn Smythe Award winner, four-time First Team All-Star, Second Team All-Star, 16 NHL All-Star appearances, and his most recent, Lester Patrick Trophy.

Messier ranks second to only Wayne Gretzky on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 1,887 points.

He became the first player to captain two different teams to a Stanley Cup championship (1990 Edmonton Oilers and the 1994 New York Rangers).

Now retired from the game, Messier’s leadership abilities continue to stand strong, as he is currently leading the fight against concussions in hockey (in addition to his role with the Rangers organization as a Special Assistant to General Manager Glen Sather).

Messier has partnered with Cascade Sports to create The Messier Project, whose main mission is to tackle the growing concussion issue throughout the world of hockey by product development and public awareness campaigns.

The creation of the new Cascade M11 Helmet (pictured above), which is designed to protect the head and absorb impact, reducing the chance of getting a concussion or other serious injury, has the makings to be the future of helmet protection in the sport of hockey.

“I was approached by Cascade to come on board and help them with instituting their new technology into a helmet that would meet the criteria for the NHL players,” Messier said during an interview at the NHL Offices. “They thought that with my experience in having been a player and my background in hockey, that I could provide them with some useful information on what would make the helmet worthy for the NHL players to wear and what things were necessary for that to happen.”

“I felt it would be a great opportunity for me to give something back to not only the NHL, but also to the grassroots level of hockey and minor [league] hockey where concussions have become such a big epidemic as well; it’s not only at the NHL level, but in youth hockey. That is why I’m here and that is why I’m part of the process here and joined the team of Cascade to hopefully do something that hasn’t been done...which is long overdue in the helmet area.”

Since 1996, concussions have ended the careers of at least 33 players in the NHL. It continues to be a serious issue that constantly puts more and more players’ careers in jeopardy. According to independent sources used in The Messier Project, since 1997, an astounding number of over 759 players have been diagnosed with concussion related symptoms.

The M11 Helmet was created with the latest technology to not only increase the protection of the head and help absorb impacts, but it was also designed to look sleeker and improve the comfort level for players, which was a main criticism that the CHX Helmet had received back in 2007.

“We never wanted to jeopardize the integrity of the helmet with what the helmet ultimately looked like, Messier said. “So we had to make sure that we were able to come up with a shell that not only looked good, but also didn’t take away from the protection aspect. I think we were able to do that. It’s light, comfortable, and it’s got a lot of ventilation in it, so it breathes well.”

The new ratchet system, which is part of the Pro Fit element of the helmet, allows you to adjust the helmet for a perfect fit.

“Because the other helmets are adjusted so high, so you get pressure points, you get tight side-to-side, but you don’t get a helmet that fits all the way around the head,” Mary-Kay Messier, Vice President of Business Development, said of the ratchet system. “But this system actually brings the entire helmet in, not just the front-to-back.”

Aside from the new attractive design and fit of the helmet, the Seven Technology gets a lot of the focus. Being what The Messier Project’s Web site calls its Secret Weapon, Seven Technology absorbs impact and resets for maximum protection from an addition blow (within five seconds). It provides the protection of two helmets in one.

Like any new piece of equipment that reaches the open market, there are some obstacles which stand in the way.

For The Messier Project and its new Cascade M11 Helmet, the main problem is trying to build credibility with the NHL players and also the younger hockey generation.

“Well, I think the thing that we need and know is that you get credibility with anything at the highest level," Messier said. “Meaning that if the kids see NHL players wearing the helmet, then that immediately will give the helmet or any other piece of equipment credibility. If it’s OK for the pros to wear, it’s OK for me to wear.”

“Hockey is a traditional game in the way that players have looked for the past 50 years or more. In order for us to gain access, we had to make a helmet that didn’t stand out from the rest of the helmets [from the almighty mirror test] and changing the mindset of all of the parents, players, and kids, right up to the NHL level, will not be easy.

"But we feel now that as we gain entrance into the National Hockey League and NHL players see it on the ice more and more, and they realize that it doesn’t look any differently, but it protects you in a far greater way, that ultimately, it’s going to feed itself down into the minor leagues...which is where we really need to start.”

“And more importantly, as we get more notice, the parents that are making the decisions of what their kids wear at an early age will look at this helmet and put their kids in that helmet. As they grow up, they will already be in the helmet. So, there is a long term plan in it as well, but the short term plan is that we needed to get access to the NHL players and entrance into the NHL to give it credibility to immediately start the process.”

So when will the Sidney Crosby’s and the Alex Ovechkin’s of the league start sporting the new M11 Helmet in the NHL?

“A lot of guys are under contract with specific companies, which we respect,” Messier said. “So, we went to every NHL training camp with our product and we introduced our product to the trainers, so the trainers and equipment managers are up-to-speed on it.”

“We want to educate the players and we want them to make the decisions themselves because, ultimately, they are the ones who have to make the decisions on what’s best for them as a player.”

This campaign is all about educating the hockey world about the dangers of concussions and what players can do to help prevent those types of injuries from happening. It's not meant to force the helmet on players, only educate them about the benefits of wearing it.

“Because of the statistics, you’re four or five times more likely to get a second concussion once you’ve had one," stated Mary-Kay. “That’s part of what we are trying to bring awareness for. You need to protect yourself up front and be proactive with it.”

To learn more about this campaign, please visit The Messier Project.

NOTE: I conducted this interview, along with NHL Representative Mike DiLorenzo. The quotes used are responses to a 30-minute interview that both Mr. DiLorenzo and I had with Mark Messier and Mary-Kay Messier on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009 about The Messier Project.


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