When young Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau suffered a cut on his wrist as a result of contact from Bryan Little’s skate in a game against Winnipeg earlier this month, he got off lucky. It wasn’t a deep cut, and he returned to the game early in the second period after suffering the cut late in the first. It was the second consecutive game that a Flame had been cut by a skate, according to Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun.
“You need to protect yourself,” coach Bob Hartley told reporters. “Players think it won't happen to them, but we got lucky with Johnny.”
His teammate, David Wolf, wasn’t as lucky. The Calgary forward suffered a skate cut laceration on his leg in his NHL debut and was placed on injured reserve before returning a week after Gaudreau’s freak but minor injury.
A look through a Getty Images photo gallery or a conversation with players on any professional, minor, junior or collegiate team shows how fortunate players can be. There are dozens of near-misses in any NHL game, and when a skate does come in contact with a player – which is “not often,” according to Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene – the results usually align more towards the Gaudreau degree of severity than the potentially life-threatening skate cut injuries suffered by former Buffalo goalie Clint Malarchuk or former Florida forward Richard Zednik.
“I think a lot of equipment does a good job of protecting against it,” Greene said. “But it’s just a freak accident. It’s just like anything, nobody is going out there and trying to slice anybody. It’s just something that happens on accident and it’s unfortunate when it does.”
There will still be incidents that will cause players to miss time, but the hope is that such casualties will decrease in severity and become less frequent due to newer technology and stronger protection in equipment. Such progress was spotlighted when star Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson missed two and a half months of the 2012-13 season when the skate of then-Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke sliced through his unprotected game sock and cut his left Achilles tendon.
The Kings, like many teams, use protective game socks and foot socks and have the means to be able to stitch protection into the pants as well. The protective socks the team uses are made out of Kevlar or Dyneema – two brands that are “like a comparison between Coke and Pepsi,” according to Head Equipment Manager Darren Granger.
“We see [skate cuts] from time to time. It doesn’t happen very often, hopefully,” Granger said. “The Kevlar does protect. We’ve had a couple instances where it’s cut right through the game sock to the foot sock. The foot sock, in these cases, didn’t cut through but they will still bleed from pressure. But the advantage you have is there is no cut. There’s no deep cut like if you were sliced.”
Granger estimated that roughly half of the Kings rely on the modified game socks and 90 percent of the players wear the foot sock, which goes up to the knee.
“You don’t notice a difference,” said Matt Greene, whose game socks are stitched along the back in the effort to provide extra protection.
That the stitching is located on the back of his sock opens up a secondary issue, as there is no uniformity in NHL game socks and uniform construction. Some teams feature diagonal color patterns, some teams feature stripes. There is no standardized location of how the socks are put together or where the stitchiing may be.
“It’s just a matter of getting the technology together to put it into everybody’s uniform, because they’re all different,” Granger said. “They all look the same out there, but the way the seams are cut into the socks and the striping, it’s all different. So they’re trying to work with everybody to get it somewhat close to where it will work for everybody. They had it at the All-Star Game, which was good.”
“We actually introduced ours without telling [the players]. Not the foot sock, that’s been a good five or six years now of trying to get that in. It’s kind of been a little bit like the visor, where it’s working its way in. I think it will be 100-percent at some point here soon – or at least I hope so – in the game sock and most likely, eventually the practice sock as well. I think it will be in there, it will be mandatory. I’ve been involved with some discussions with the league and the players association. They’re both wanting to do something.”
Hockey is a fast and physical game, and injuries will happen outside of the ability to supplement protection with new technology and cut-proof equipment. Minnesota forward Jason Zucker, who experienced a frightening near-miss when Kyle Clifford’s skate boot made contact with his face at Staples Center during the six-game Kings home stand in October, would not have been protected, lest the NHL implemented mandatory full face shields and neck protectors. And it’s not similar to the efforts to eradicate head injuries, which are based heavily on player behavior on the ice.
“You’re battling in a corner and there are four guys there and one guys trips and your heel is up, it’s dangerous,” Tanner Pearson said. “We’re not really thinking about that going into the battle.”