View original posting from Vancouver Sun
He was an angel in the National Hockey League, playing 159 consecutive games at one point without a trip to the penalty box.
Now, as a retired player turned “angel investor,” Kyle Wellwood is providing both capital and name recognition to a Vancouver startup company — HeadCheck Health — which seeks to alleviate some of the public anxiety over the head trauma crisis in sports.
The New HeadCheck Health app: ‘People behind it are passionate about it.’
Last year, HeadCheck launched its concussion app — a sideline test that allows trainers, coaches or parents to assess potential concussions using an algorithm to measure symptoms. In January, the company received an important endorsement, signing a memo of understanding with the Sport Medicine Council of British Columbia (SportMedBC), a not-for-profit society of close to 600 sports medicine practitioners.
“The people behind it are passionate about it,” says Wellwood, a Windsor, Ont., native who played 489 games in the NHL.
“It has the potential to become important to a lot of people, especially young people. It’s accessible, because of the cost. Players at the high school level, junior or the Tier 2 leagues can get the same test they use in the NHL. There’s no difference.”
Wellwood, now 33, called it a career at age 30 when he retired after playing only nine games with Zug, in the Swiss League. A fifth-round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001, he later played for Winnipeg, Vancouver and San Jose.
In his first of two seasons with the Canucks (2008-2009), he scored 18 goals — a high-water mark he reached later with the Jets.
His 171-game stay in Vancouver, which included 22 playoff starts, had profound consequences well beyond his on-ice production. Wellwood met his future wife, Bianca, a Vancouver/Whistler native, and settled here after his hockey career was done. The couple have a five-year-old boy, Roman.
‘NHL players get top-quality care. It’s the other leagues, where testing is minimal or not done at all, where contact with the head can affect an individual for the rest of his life.’
Possessed of an active, inquiring mind, Wellwood got involved in the Nature Conservancy of Canada and The Vancouver Sun’s Raise-a-Reader Program during his time with the Canucks. In retirement, he’s taken certificate courses in financial planning and computer systems at BCIT.
Last October, at the Vancouver Tech Showcase, a forum for startup companies seeking investors, he listened intently to the pitch of Harrison Brown, a UBC PhD candidate in kinesiology and one of the co-founders of the HeadCheck concussion app. Wellwood liked what he heard.
“He came over and made the connection right away,” Brown says. “I’ve gotten to know Kyle — and he’s different. Different than the A-type personalties you associate with NHL guys. He’s very chill. Very inquisitive. Very analytical.
“If he hadn’t gone into hockey, he probably would have ended up in business or finance. That’s how his mind works.”
Wellwood and his younger brother, Eric, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick who coaches with the Flint Firebirds of the Ontario Hockey League, are among six “angel investors” in HeadCheck, entrepreneurs with high net worth or connections making educated bets on the mobile app. It can be used by therapists and medical personnel on youth and high school teams to “bridge the gap between concussion research and the sideline,” according to Brown.
“In trying to accelerate our growth in the hockey industry, it’s a different level of introduction when it’s done by Kyle,” Brown says. “There’s the name recognition factor. No longer do we have to make ‘cold calls’ in trying to connect to a team, a GM or an owner.”
A skilled but undersized player who had to play heads-up hockey to avoid trouble, Wellwood claims he was never concussed in his career, though he took a lot of big hits, especially as a 16-year-old Belleville Bulls rookie playing against physically mature 20-year-olds in the OHL.
Still, the number of brain injuries he’s seen with teammates at the NHL level “are very real.”
Wellwood played with the late Rick Rypien, whose depression-related death is linked to the number of head shots he took as an NHL fighter, and Eric Lindros, a frequent visitor to the neurologist by the number of times he left the ice glassy-eyed and woozy.
“I saw Eric struggle for a whole year to get back on the ice,” Wellwood says. “He couldn’t. He wasn’t able to go full blast. Those memories stay with you still. I’m definitely biased on this subject because of what I’ve seen.
“But NHL players get top-quality care. It’s the other leagues, where testing is minimal or not done at all, where contact with the head can affect an individual for the rest of his life. And that’s not right.”
True to his word, Wellwood is walking the talk by writing a cheque.