Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: So painful to the touch

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 9, 2011 - 12:54 AM

It's time for the rule to change when races to the puck for icing are creating more grisly injuries than excitement.

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Former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster broke his leg hitting the wall after he was nudged from behind by San Jose center Torrey Mitchell in 2008. “I know the NHL likes races for the puck, but I don’t see the entertainment value,” Foster said after Taylor Fedun suffered a similar fate.

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

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Every time the NHL cracks down on hits to the head or hits from behind, you get the few traditionalists (i.e. Mike Milbury) screaming that they're trying to take hitting out of the game.

Every time a player gets hurt in a fight, you've got one side screaming that fighting needs to be banished from the NHL, you've got the other side saying it's a necessity, both from an intimidation point of view and an entertainment point of view.

There are passionate debates about myriad subjects in the NHL.

But find me one person beating the drum about the virtues of touch icing? Honestly: Is there anybody screaming, "Man, we've got to keep that exciting race for the puck on icings, or the game is unwatchable?"

So why when every other league in the world has no-touch or hybrid icing does the NHL continue to have touch icing?

It'd be nice if somebody had the figures of how many average icings are actually negated in an NHL game and, of those, how many amount to anything resembling a scoring chance or goal.

One out of 20, if that?

Well, those of us who unfortunately went down to Xcel Energy Center the night of Sept. 30 witnessed another horrifying train wreck that left a player writhing in pain on the ice with a shattered femur.

Taylor Fedun, who just graduated from Princeton with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, was so close to making the Edmonton Oilers out of camp. That was before he joined Kurtis Foster, Al MacInnis, Pat Peake, Mark Tinordi, Marco Sturm and Marty Reasoner as the latest on the touch-icing casualty list.

Eric Nystrom, with his job more on the line than any of us knew, was trying to impress the Wild brass by hustling and not giving up on a play. He got to the puck just shy of Fedun, reached around and Fedun stepped on his stick.

"But why does that have to happen?" Nystrom said Wednesday, one day before he lost his job with the Wild. "The injuries on those plays, they happen every once in a while, but why does any injury have to happen? There's a risk of injury every time that play happens, and it makes you wonder why they even have it."

Foster certainly wonders. Foster, while with the Wild in 2008, broke his femur when Torrey Mitchell nudged him from behind on an icing in San Jose.

"I think somebody's going to have to break a neck or something more catastrophic before they go to no-touch icing," said Foster, now with Anaheim. "I know the NHL likes races for the puck, but I don't see the entertainment value in this."

Neither does Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who says the NHL has already put touch icing on the next GM meeting's agenda.

Fletcher said the Wild, and many of his colleagues around the league, would support a change to hybrid icing.

The NHL would be able to write the rule any way it wanted, but in most cases hybrid icing entails a race to the faceoff circles. If the defending team wins, or it's a tie or even close, the linesman whistles the play dead. If the attacking team wins, play continues, but the defending player at least can brace himself before he gets to the end boards.

"So this way there's still a race, but it's being blown dead 20 feet up ice as opposed to right at the boards," Fletcher said. "It's just too dangerous. I think, in my opinion, eventually we'll definitely get there, hopefully in time for next year."

Nystrom, who felt immense guilt after Fedun's injury, certainly hopes so. He said he and Fedun discussed no-touch icing at Fedun's hospital bed.

"We both said, you don't want to be part of something like this, but if something good comes out of this and they change this stupid rule, that'd be good," Nystrom said

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