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The most dangerous sport for concussions? Girls' hockey

Female hockey players are two to three times more likely to suffer a concussion than their male counterparts.

Female hockey players are two to three times more likely to suffer a concussion than their male counterparts.

Kim McCullough was having a career game. The Dartmouth College forward was on her way to registering five points against Boston College. She got below the top of the circle and ripped a shot, just then a BC defensive player laid a two-hander beneath her chin.  

McCullough felt weird, but shook it off. Yet immediately after the contest, she puked. Her head throbbed. For the entire two-and-a-half hour bus ride from Boston back to Hanover, New Hampshire, the Toronto native lay on the floor. Over the next three weeks, she couldn't go to school, relegated instead to a dark room.  

According to a study by the Minnesota Department of Health released last spring, high school athletes incurred about 3,000 concussions between August 2013 and May 2014. The most likely to get concussed? Girls' hockey players. 

They're somewhere between two to three times more likely to suffer a concussion than male hockey players. McCullough, now a junior coach in Toronto and founder of Total Female Hockey, where she helps sculpt talent with elite aspirations, believes it happens to almost one in three girls who play competitively.

"On a team with 15 skaters," she says, "what I've seen is about four of them will sustain a concussion over the course of the season, where they'll be taken out of play for at least a week. On some teams, it can be higher."

So why are they more prevalent in girls' hockey, where checking is outlawed? 

McCullough believes the absence of checking leads players to skate with their heads down, which only increases their vulnerability. And many female players aren't taught how to protect themselves from contact.  

As a result, players "go in with blinders on when there's a race for the puck with no thought that the other person might run into them," she says. "In boys hockey, you always have that seed that someone may come in and hit you. In girls' hockey, you know there's going to be contact, but you don't have that seed planted in the back of your head that someone could come and run you over."