GLENDALE, ARIZ. – It all seems so preventable.
The Wild has faced life the past seven games without Zach Parise because of a broken left foot, one on which he played a dozen games before it became too painful to continue. Now, the team faces life for a few weeks without defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who injured a foot blocking a shot, and captain Mikko Koivu for a month after he broke his right ankle when struck by a puck.
Maybe it’s contagious because defenseman Marco Scandella missed Wednesday’s practice after being drilled by a puck to the foot in Tuesday night’s victory at Los Angeles. He limped out of the rink and is questionable to play Thursday against Phoenix.
Not only do none of these players wear protection over their skates, not a single Wild player wears any of the many types of plastic or carbon fiber foot protectors (Shot Blockers, Skate Fenders, etc.) sold in the marketplace.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher is trying to end that.
In unfortunate irony, before the injuries to Koivu, Spurgeon and Scandella, Fletcher met with several of his players in an attempt to persuade them to wear protection on the outside of their boots.
Next week, Francois Blondin, an orthotist and prosthetist out of Montreal, is coming to Minnesota to make moldings of each Wild player’s skates. It will then be up to each player to try out the custom-made shot blockers to see if he can play with them.
“The problem is players have the right to do what they want to do. We cannot make them wear them,” Fletcher said. “We can encourage them to, we can provide [foot protectors] to them — which we have all year — and we can be a little more aggressive in extolling the virtues of shot blockers and, well, strongly recommend them.
“But we are not allowed to mandate players to wear them. Ultimately, it’s the player’s final decision. Player choice and player rights are part of the equation, but I’d prefer that we put player safety and the good of the team ahead of player choice and player rights. But this is the world we live in.”
The words “strongly recommend” is key. All player safety changes must be mutually agreed upon between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association. It took years for visors to become mandatory, and starting this season, all players with fewer than 26 games of NHL experience must wear them. Others are grandfathered in regards to the rule.
Flames buy in
Earlier this season, after Flames captain Mark Giordano and Lee Stempniak suffered foot injuries, Flames GM Jay Feaster “strongly recommended” all his players wear foot protection. Teams invest a lot of money in players, and if injuries can be avoided, Feaster felt players should do their part.
Feaster has since been fired, yet every Calgary player still wears them.
“We learn from our mistakes,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said then.
Most players don’t like wearing them. As fate would have it, Spurgeon and Scandella wore Skate Fenders last season and took them off this season.
“Players complain blockers make their skate bulky and they seem to bottom out on turns when the blocker hits the ice,” Wild equipment manager Tony DaCosta said.
After being nailed by St. Louis forward Alex Steen’s shot in November, Parise tried on a pair of Skate Fenders at a morning skate Nov. 29. He played that night against Colorado without them.
“I didn’t like it,” Parise said at the time, saying his boot felt too heavy.
“It’s weight,” Wild assistant equipment manager Rick Bronwell said. “All players hate weight. They put it on and are like, ‘Ugh, I don’t like how it feels.’ When I worked in San Jose, we made all defensemen get molded and then they had the option to wear them. Ninety-five percent didn’t.”
Skidding on ice
Right winger Jason Pominville, who leads the Wild with 18 goals, says his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, “encouraged” all penalty killers to wear them. Since he killed penalties there, he abided.
“They’re actually pretty light,” Pominville said. “But my problem was when I turned and did crossovers, a part of it would hit the ice and make you slip. That’s the major problem I hear from guys.
“But after what happened to Zach and Mikko and Spurg, management’s trying to get everyone to get them in here, and I’ll definitely try it.”
DaCosta says there’s “no guarantee that if a player chooses to wear these that they will not be injured, but I believe that it can help with the blow to the foot.”
Coach Mike Yeo hopes players like and wear the custom-made ones the Wild will provide.
“It’s not much different than the first time you put on a visor or go back a little further, the first time you put on a helmet,” Yeo said. “It feels a little bit uncomfortable, it takes a little bit of getting used to, but if it’s not going to affect your performance … we’d like our players to wear them.”