ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s a rough and tumble, fast and physical game played on a sheet of ice. But former National Hockey League players are engaged in another role inside the Burger Federal Courthouse in St. Paul.

Players like former Minnesota North Star Brad Maxwell said the league embraced the heavy hits and rough play. Unfortunately, Maxwell said, many of his friends and fellow players are suffering the long-term consequences of past concussions.

“They’re all having severe problems, some worse than others. And at this time I just feel that in the future things will get worse for a lot of the guys,” Maxwell said.

Last fall, a number of past players filed suits against the NHL seeking damages to cover ongoing medical care and monitoring for players dealing with the latent effects of concussive head trauma. In fact, so many cases were filed in different court venues around the country that in October they were all consolidated into a single Master Amended Complaint.

The case is similar to an action brought against the National Football League by current and former players concerned with the mounting damage from repeated concussions. The suit was later settled for $870 million.

Currently, 200 former NHL players blame concussions suffered while in the league for brain disorders later in life. The effects range from severe headaches to serious cognitive and neurological conditions. Attorneys representing the players said the claims weren’t filed with the NHL at the time because you can’t file a claim for something that takes years to develop.

Charles “Bucky” Zimmerman is co-lead counsel representing the plaintiffs.

“I think what this case is about is what they knew about concussions and why they didn’t tell the players. And I think the courtroom is where this should be resolved,” Zimmerman said.

But NHL attorneys want the suit thrown out, citing the preemptive nature of the player’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. League attorneys argued that that any such damage claims resulting from head trauma should fall under the terms of the CBA. Those claims would be entitled to the arbitration process with specific clubs.

Former player Reed Larson believes the NHL has a duty of care for its retirees.

“We hope to be successful in helping guys that need medical attention for trauma, brain trauma or concussions,” Larson said.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson will now take the motions to dismiss under advisement and issue a ruling on whether the case will continue to trial.

If the case is certified as a class action, it could affect potential claims of the 5,000 former NHL players who are now retired.

Bill Hudson

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