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Concussion risk: New study says many hockey helmets unsafe

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If someone in your family is a hockey player, chances are pretty good that the helmet they're wearing isn't protecting them very well against the risk of a concussion.

A study released Monday by researchers at Virginia Tech University indicates more than a quarter of the helmets worn by hockey players at all levels of competition – from youth hockey to the NHL – are unsafe.

The researchers tested 32 models of hockey helmets currently on the market to see how well they protect against the hits that players are most likely to experience in a game, and therefore how well they reduce the risk of concussion.

The helmets were rated on a five-star scale, with five being the best.

Nine of the helmets tested didn't even get one star and were "not recommended" for use.

No helmets received four or five stars, and just one was given three stars. The rest were rated one (marginal) or two (adequate) stars.

(See the complete list of helmets and where they were rated here)

Hockey players wearing the "not recommended" helmets are at risk for getting at least six concussions per season, compared to just one for a five-star helmet, according to Virginia Tech researchers.

Nearly 2.4 million Americans play hockey, and according to ESPN it has a higher rate of concussions than any other sport.

Bauer, which sells more hockey helmets than any other company, received low ratings for all 12 of its helmets (including those made by its sister company, Mission). Two helmets received two stars; seven received one star; and three were not recommended.

And the price of the helmet didn't coordinate with its rating. For example, Bauer's most expensive helmet, the RE-AKT 100, which sells for $269.99, earned a lower rating (one star), than its least expensive helmet, the Bauer 2100 (two stars), which sells for $34.99.

Officials at the helmet companies told ESPN they are concerned about the safety of players, but want to know more about how the research was conducted.

"We make safe helmets," said Kevin Davis, the president and CEO of Performance Sports Group, Bauer's parent company. But he also noted that Bauer doesn't claim that its helmets reduce the risk of concussion because there are many factors that can contribute to the injury.

Hockey helmets on the market go through a certification process through the Hockey Equipment Certification Council, or HECC, a non-profit organization.

But the standards set by HECC are focused on preventing skull fractures and serious brain injuries, not concussions, ESPN said.

HECC released a statement in response to the study, saying it's very interested in Virginia Tech's research and wants to determine how it could be used to improve ice hockey head protection for players.

All parties involved say that a helmet alone will not prevent hockey players from getting concussions.

Instead, they say some rules of the game should be changed.

"Trying to eliminate the dangerous activities which we know are associated with concussion risk – like checking from behind, boarding, charging and hits to the head," Dr. Michael Stuart of the Mayo Clinic told KARE 11. Stuart is one of the nation's leading experts on youth hockey concussions.

Virginia Tech used this research methodology to study football helmets in 2011, which led to a similar outcry from helmet manufacturers at that time.

The school plans to research the safety of helmets for other sports over the next several years, including la crosse, baseball, softball, bicycling and youth football.

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