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Call goes out for mandatory Kevlar

Cut-resistant material might have prevented Karlsson injury

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The worst part of the NHL's unbalanced schedule, in most seasons, and with opponents being from the same conference this year, is that we, in the West, don't see enough of the East.

That being the case, it's easy to overlook just how big a loss Erik Karlsson, one of hockey's most exciting players, will be to the Ottawa Senators. Karlsson controls the game from the back end. He always has the puck and creates scoring chances almost every shift.

The reigning Norris Trophy winner as the league's top defenceman scored 19 goals and 78 points last season, and by all accounts he was the most dominant player a quarter of the way through this season.

Then the 22-year-old went into the corner Wednesday and had his left Achilles tendon cut 70 per cent of the way through by the skate blade of Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.

Karlsson underwent surgery the next day, his season has ended and the Senators' season will probably go down the tubes.

Debate all you want if Cooke meant to stomp on Karlsson or not -- Cooke never gets the benefit of the doubt because of his multiple-page rap sheet of dirtiness -- but the incident should get the attention of all NHLers.

It's amazing what happened to Karlsson doesn't happen more often. These types of incidents can be avoided with the use of cut-resistant socks and arm sleeves.

In 1994, when Teemu Selanne was 23 and a year after his 76-goal rookie season, Selanne had his right Achilles 80 per cent severed by Don McSween's skate.

Selanne now wears arm sleeves and socks made with Kevlar yarn. On Thursday in Detroit, the ageless Anaheim Ducks star demonstrated his arm sleeves to reporters by trying to cut his arm with his skate.

"I think every player should have this kind of sleeve," Selanne said.

For some reason, only a handful of players wear this type of protective apparel.

"Some guys are really picky about their socks and how they feel in their skates," said the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck. "Some guys don't wear any socks at all."

Only Clutterbuck, Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert routinely wear cut-resistant socks on the Wild, and Clutterbuck says they feel no different than normal athletic socks.

Clutterbuck began wearing his three years ago after a skate blade actually cut through his shin pad and into his leg.

Like Selanne, Clutterbuck has tried running a skate over the socks. They won't cut. Suter has tried to cut his with scissors. They won't cut.

Many companies, such as Reebok, Easton and Bauer, market various types of cut-resistant socks. Bauer's Elite Performance Skate Sock has been on the market since last May and is made with Kevlar brand fibre.

Beth Crowell, the category manager of Bauer Performance Apparel who will be at the Minnesota State High School League boys' hockey tournament March 7-8 demonstrating the sock and other protective apparel, says, "When accidents happen, the usage increases for sure."

So affected by the Karlsson incident, Wild forward Mike Rupp tried them out for the first time Thursday against Colorado.

"If they don't feel any different, there's no reason not to wear them," said Rupp, who coincidentally scored his first goal of the season that night. "They felt great."

Suter thinks the league and players' association should work to make them mandatory.

"Why not?" Suter said. "You pay us all this money, why not protect us the best you can?"

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the NHL and NHLPA will establish a joint working group to study and make recommendations in respect to standards for protective equipment.

In the past, the players' association has fought against encroachment into areas of player choice. But this is an interesting one because it pits player choice vs. player safety.

"I think probably when players first started wearing helmets, they might have felt a little bit different or uncomfortable to some people," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "But you get used to what you wear quickly. Anything you can do to prevent injury, I don't think is a huge inconvenience. You wear it a couple times in practice, you'll get used to it in a hurry."

-- Minneapolis Star Tribune

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2013 B15

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