Dakota Derrer’s ‘really bad concussion’ upended her academic and hockey plans
Published on November 4, 2018 at 11:47 pm Contact Danny: firstname.lastname@example.org | @DannyEmerman Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments Dakota Derrer wasn’t planning on attending Syracuse University for five years, but it wasn’t up to her.A play during the second game of last season, on Sept. 30, 2017, her final shift against Bemidji State, decided Derrer’s fate. She doesn’t remember the shift. She just knows she collided with someone.Derrer struggled through concussion protocol. She tried to go to class but had to leave, because the lights hurt her head and made her nauseous. She tried to watch her team’s games, but the motion made her sick. With painful migraines and nausea, Derrer stayed in her room for “a good month.”“I guess we felt, at that point in time, her career was over,” SU head coach Paul Flanagan said.Derrer’s “really bad concussion” caused her to miss a month of class and take incompletes in the fall semester, she said. It took six months for Derrer to get cleared to workout. She was awarded a medical redshirt by the NCAA to play for SU as a fifth-year student.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textShe graduated last spring with a bachelor’s degree in biology, but a chance to lace up her skates one last time led her back to SU for a fifth year, her mother Debbie said. She has brought back her aggressive style and is leading the Orange (4-6, 4-2 College Hockey America) in blocked shots like she did as a sophomore.“It’s real nice to have her back,” teammate Lindsay Eastwood said. “She’s a puck magnet on the defensive end, she’s always blocking shots. I think that’s something that we definitely missed out of her last year, and it’s nice to have that back.”The concussion Derrer suffered last year was the first she had ever been diagnosed with. Debbie was in the stands in Bemidji, Minnesota when it happened and said it looked like “nothing major.” She didn’t fall to the ice. Debbie didn’t think anything was wrong until an hour after the game when Derrer told her mom she had suffered a concussion.Flanagan remembers seeing Derrer skate into the crease and get hit with an elbow. Her neck whipped back, he said.According to a 2015 study by the American Physical Therapy Association, women hockey players suffer concussions at the third-highest rate among college athletes. Women’s hockey had a concussion rate of 7.52 per 10,000 athlete exposures, behind men’s hockey and men’s wrestling.In the two months after Derrer suffered the concussion, her condition was not improving. Her mother “pulled lots of strings” to get an appointment with Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a leading neurologist in Brighton, Michigan, Debbie said.Derrer spent two days at Dr. Jeffery Kutcher’s Sports Neurology Clinic, undergoing a series of evaluations including neuro-psych exams, exertional activities, vision tests and a CT scan, Debbie said. Kutcher is known for unorthodox treatment methods with athletes recovering from brain injuries and post-concussion syndrome.“I tried so hard to get back so many times,” Derrer said. “After (team doctors) told me I was done, that’s when I gave up, kind of. Then my mom got me to (Dr. Kutcher), and after seeing him, he gave me hope that I could play again.”Eradicating concussions from such a fast and spontaneous sport is impossible, Flanagan said, but the coaching and medical staff have tried to prevent head injuries by teaching proper skating posture and introducing neck-strengthening exercises.“Keep your head up and have an awareness around the boards,” Flanagan said he teaches young players. “But there’s always those unperceived circumstances or plays when somebody comes out of nowhere. You hear, ‘I was blindsided.’ That, you just try to teach kids that in every area with traffic, keep your knees bent and have good posture.”Although her concussion was scary, Derrer said it hasn’t changed the way she played, and she continues to be one of the most physical skaters on the team.“She doesn’t play timid at all, though,” her teammate Anonda Hoppner said. “She’s in there, she’ll play you on the boards, she’ll hit you. It’s great.”Derrer leads the team in blocks with 25, and the next closest is Lauren Bellefontaine (18). She scored her only goal of the season in one of SU’s two wins against Lindenwood.Though Derrer’s now symptom-free, her teammates still can’t help but wince when she absorbs or initiates contact on the boards.“If she goes into the corner,” Eastwood said, “or like a pretty hard battle in the corner, you’re like, ‘Ugh, don’t hit her head.’ You get a little nervous. That goes for anyone, but knowing her history with concussions, you know you wouldn’t want that to happen again, especially to her.”Although her concussion forced her to change her plans, Derrer’s passion for hockey led her back to Syracuse for one final season of blocking shots and delivering hits along the boards.She out-hustles and defends physically. That’s the only way she knows.