A way to soften the blow

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2011 - 1:47 AM

The Fusion Safety Pad, developed by Sports Resource Group of Minneapolis, soon could make NHL arenas safer.

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Montreal's Max Pacioretty

Photo: Paul Chiasson, AP

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VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Of course, nobody can say for sure if Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty would have gotten up and skated away had he made impact with the Fusion Safety Pad developed by a Minneapolis-based company last week instead of the padding that wraps a stanchion at Montreal's Bell Centre.

But in the irony of all ironies, if that exact same frightening check from Boston's Zdeno Chara happened in the exact same spot a month from now in Montreal, we might have found out if Pacioretty would have avoided the concussion and broken vertebra in his neck that suddenly hinders his career.

In February, the NHL put its stamp of approval on a new type of padding that soon will wrap stanchions inside an NHL rink near you.

The Fusion Safety Pad is taller, thicker and denser than the current industry standard and was developed by Minneapolis' Sports Resource Group.

Over the past three weeks, the company has been negotiating a contract with the NHL. Once that's finalized, "We can pull the trigger on production instantly [in Fridley] and have these in the hands of arena operators in seven to 10 days," said Chris Guertin, President of Sports Resource Group. "Our goal would be to get these in the arenas for the playoffs.

"Unfortunately, if this [Pacioretty's] hit happened April 8 instead of March 8, it probably would have been a non-factor and he would have skated off," Guertin added.

On most hockey rinks, there are stanchions at points where the glass stops by the benches.

That's where Chara rubbed Pacioretty out.

In 2008, Guertin watched Ryan Smyth get knocked out when he was checked into the stanchion by now-Los Angeles Kings teammate Jack Johnson.

"That's when this idea started twirling in my mind," Guertin said.

Guertin began testing pads 18 months ago and last summer introduced it to the NHL at its Research and Development Camp in Toronto.

"When Chris showed up and put them up, even aesthetically looking, it seemed a big difference," said Brendan Shanahan, a former longtime NHLer and the league's vice president of hockey and business development.

"Then it was just a matter of him backing up his data and claims that they provide more protection and decrease the risk of concussions. We feel after some thorough, rigorous testing, that's been done. We think there's a future there."

After going back to the drawing board many times, Guertin is on his fifth version of the pad "and we think we have the right pad."

"If you took a 9 1/2-mile per hour skater, unhelmeted, and he hit a stanchion with no padding whatsoever, there's a 100 percent risk of concussion," Guertin said. "With the current industry standard, which we just pulled off an NHL rink, there was a 64 percent concussion rate. And with our padding, it was 1 percent. So I can guarantee you that we can reduce the impact."

The padding used in most NHL rinks is 36 inches tall, although Boston and Philadelphia use taller, thicker pads. Guertin's pad is 48 inches and comes larger.

His is an L-shape to conform to both sides of the 90-degree angle, while the current turnbuckles are U-shaped. Guertin said the L-shape allows the amount of foam to stay consistent throughout no matter how it fits. His foam at the most likely point of impact is 2 1/2 inches while the other is 1 1/2, he said.

Since Pacioretty's injury, the NHL Players' Association has voiced its concern with the padding currently being used.

"The serious nature of the injury suffered ... reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said. "We will be inspecting the rink in Montreal, and elsewhere as needed, to make sure the appropriate padding is in place."

Once the Fusion Safety Pads are in NHL rinks, Guertin will begin marketing them to community and youth rinks. His first order recently went out to Skatetown in Roseville, Calif.

But the last hurdle to get them in NHL arenas is the contract language. He expects that to be finalized any day.

"There've been a lot of injuries with this type of hit in this area," Shanahan said. "Obviously someone thought enough to put padding in that spot. But now we've advanced where we've been able to hopefully through Chris and his company find better and more complete padding for that part of the ice"

"We all play hard and we all love the game of hockey. No one likes to see a guy get carried off the ice."

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