The Engels Angle: Cutting to the point
Published Monday, November 7, 2011 10:57PM EST
Long before the proliferation of concussions caused by vicious head-shots monopolized our attention in our focus on safety in hockey, we held primal fears about the concept of high-flying players with sharp-edged knives on their feet, playing a full-contact sport in which the risk of being cut is very real.
Take out the contact, and the risk still exists.
It seems that each time those fears fade to the background of consciousness, hockey's brightest stage (the NHL) serves up another reminder of the imminent dangers of cuts suffered in high-speed collisions between opponents, or in freak accidents between teammates.
Were left wondering, why have innovations involving cut-resistant materials yet to be mandated in minor hockey--where the risk level is obviously higher than in the pros?
It wasn't but three weeks ago that Michael Cammalleri left the Canadiens' second game of the season in a hurried panic after teammate Yannick Weber's skate blade grazed his knee, causing a horrifying and public blood-letting that would make any observer quiver with nausea.
Count Cammalleri as one of four members of the current Canadiens to have suffered a cut to one of his legs.
Consider him to be one of three that was very fortunate to have not missed a significant period of playing time, because the cuts suffered weren't to any major ligaments, tendons, or worse--arteries. Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek were the other two.
Andrei Markov was less fortunate in 2009 when, in the very first game of the season, he suffered lacerations to the tendons of one of his ankles in a freak collision with goaltender Carey Price. The result was a 35-game absence from play.
Later on that season, former Canadien Robert Lang was another unfortunate player to have his Achilles' Tendon severed by a skate-blade; an injury that ultimately may have shortened his career, having only played one more season in the NHL thereafter.
Have the incidents of cuts in hockey been higher since the lockout?
"Absolutely," said long-time Canadiens equipment manager Pierre Gervais a couple of weeks ago, from the team's training facility in Brossard, Qc.
"I think it's mainly that the equipment changed. The socks [stockings that go over shinpads] we've been using [since the lockout] are too thin."
The NHL's agreement with Reebok forces players to wear socks/stockings and jerseys that were streamlined after the lockout to give them a sleeker look and provide them with lighter material to wear in those areas.
And what of the notion that skates are sharper than ever with the advancement of new technologies that allow for you to shave down the radius of a skate blade, or customize a sharpening with what's referred to as a "flat-bottom V"; an innovation that's supposed to ensure a better balance between cutting the ice and gliding along the surface of it?
Gervais said it's a fallacy. "Sharpness is about the same as it's always been, surprisingly."
Traditionally, a grinding stone is used to create a groove between the edges of a skate blade, and the depth of that groove determines the performance of the sharpening.
Some players prefer to have that groove be one inch deep, but Gervais clarified that most players opt for half an inch and some prefer duller blades--opting to go five or even three-eighths deep.
"In Cammy's case, Yannick Weber's skates are sharpened at 5/8--less sharp than normal,"
You'd consider this the best news of the Canadiens' young season. Had Cammalleri come into contact with a sharper blade, we can only imagine how bad the damage would've been.
The latest innovation in cut-resistant hockey equipment
Two weeks ago, upon his possible early return to Montreal's lineup, Cammalleri told the Gazette's Pat Hickey that he would like to see the cut-resistant technology currently used for socks extended to the outer stockings.
His wish was already a well-established Montreal company's command.
Do-Gree, a fashion accessories company specializing in head wear, has been in operation since 1953.
The company got into the knit-hockey sock/stocking business six years ago, and last year co-owner David Tock came up with an innovation that drops a liner made of a synthetic fiber known as Dyneema®--trademarked by Netherlands-based company DSM as "the world's strongest fiber™--into an outer shell made of 100% polyester, which is more cut-resistant than the customary cotton/polyester blend hockey socks are made of.
"The Gladiator" is a hockey sock/stocking that is close to 50 per cent more cut-resistant than regular knits worn by most non-professional hockey players.
While the focus is to curb against serious injury induced by skate blade cuts, Tock recognizes that nothing is cut-proof.
"We saw at the NHL-level that the incidents of cuts seemed dramatically high. We felt there was a need to fill and the initiative was designed so that we could turn what would be a major cut into a minor one, or better yet, a surface scratch."
The patent-pending product is made in Montreal and currently retails at select Rousseau Sports stores in Montreal, for $39.99/pair, and more information on the design is available at www.gladiatorsocks.com.
Lower Canada College takes progressive steps to protect students playing hockey
As a school that invoked a concussion-protocol for their athletes a full six years before the NHL established theirs last March, Lower Canada College is pretty progressive on the safety front.
"Students first" is the school's mantra, found in the digital signatures of emails sent by members of their faculty.
Upon hearing of "The Gladiator", head coach Kirk Llano felt it necessary to equip his senior hockey team with the product.
It would seem "students first" is synonymous with "safety first" in this case.
"Looking at the materials of "the Gladiator"--they're amazing. To have that protection from Achilles' all the way up to the groin; truthfully, if one pair of socks can prevent any type of severe cut, regardless of whether that cut keeps a player out for an extended period or just one game, it's a no-brainer."
Llano adds, "I know that their cut-resistant, not cut-proof, but to me this is an opportunity to equip the kids with another level of safety.
I wouldn't be surprised--if these socks prove over time that they can do what we believe they can do--they should go the way of the mouth-guard. They should become mandatory for those not involved at the professional level."
The difference between pros and amateurs
The obvious aside, if the risk of cut incidents is high at the NHL level, than surely it's a larger concern in leagues where the size discrepancy between players and the difference in skill level is dramatic.
At the professional level of play, where performance is paramount, the balance between comfort and safety is a hard one to achieve.
Despite Gervais's persistence with members of the Canadiens to wear cut-resistant socks on their feet--where they are free to choose what they wear on that part of their body--some are reluctant to switch from what they're generally accustomed to.
If a player doesn't feel comfortable, he may sacrifice safety to ensure his performance doesn't dip.
But our kids? Amateurs playing for fun? Adults in rec-hockey?
Gervais says "They shouldn't have a choice. They should be wearing cut-resistant everything. In ten years from now, they'll be so used to it we won't have to convince them--if they get to this level--to wear them."
Josh Gorges says "I think it's great that there are companies out there that are trying to make it safer, not only for us, but for kids that are growing up playing the game.
I've never been cut, but I've seen cuts happen. I know it does happen. I don't think I would hesitate to equip my kids with those kinds of innovations--knowing that they're out there now."
Travis Moen agrees: "Any time you can protect somebody--I mean we've seen lots of cuts with skates on guys' legs--it's obviously a good thing."