TAMPA — Pat Maroon still feels horrible about what happened.
Nearly two weeks after the Lightning forward’s skate blade sliced Oilers forward Evander Kane’s left wrist down to the bone and sent Kane into emergency surgery to repair a damaged artery, you can hear the guilt in Maroon’s voice as he talks about the incident, though there was nothing he could have done to prevent it.
“I feel awful for Evander, because he’s a good player and how he’s going to miss four months and I just feel awful that obviously, unfortunately, it was me on the other side of it,” Maroon said Thursday. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen something like that happen in a long time. And I’m hoping that never happens to anyone again. … It’s an accident that’s not meant to happen in the game.”
Kane’s injury has prompted renewed discussion about making cut-resistant clothing mandatory. Right now, players have high-grade equipment available to them in every NHL locker room, but it’s up to each player whether to wear it or not.
The players union has long advocated for player freedom regarding equipment, and hockey players are very particular about their equipment. So even after seeing an incident like what happened to Kane Nov. 8 at Amalie Arena, sometimes it’s a tough sell.
“It’s like anything,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “Does everyone wear their seatbelt in the car? Guys wear different things. It’s a comfort thing. Unfortunately, it’s a scary risk that we go out there with when you’re playing with very sharp steel blades. I’ve tried to wear some of the cut-resistant stuff. Some of it is good, some of it is really uncomfortable. It’s just a personal preference for guys, and some guys don’t like to change at all.”
At this past week’s NHL general managers meetings, the topic of mandating cut-resistant material was discussed, as the GMs were shown the Kane injury and others in which wearing cut-resistant material could have avoided the incidents.
Inside the Lightning locker room, head equipment manager Colten Wilson has all sorts of cut-resistant gear available to players, from socks to base-layer pants and tops to wristbands. Some are infused with Kevlar, but technology is constantly improving with alternative fabrics that are more durable and washable.
The league sets grades on the equipment’s effectiveness from A-1 to A-6, and information is posted on those grades to let players know of their effectiveness.
“I’ve definitely started the conversation with the guys more,” Wilson said. “It was kind of interesting that the results of all of these cut-resistant materials testing came out literally right after that incident happened, and it’s updated every year. But I haven’t seen anybody change yet.”
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Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has worn cut-resistant socks for years, and he was reminded about the importance of using them when fellow Swede Erik Karlsson suffered a torn Achilles when a skate blade cut across his lower calf in a game nine years ago.
“The more you can do, the better,” Hedman said. “After Erik’s accident, it got even more important I feel like because I feel like that’s where you’re used to being pretty vulnerable. I’m all about making the game safer, because it’s played at such a high speed.”
The Lightning made wearing cut-resistant socks mandatory for all minor league players in the organization. It is something they hope creates a habit that carries over when prospects reach the NHL, and rookies Cole Koepke and Nick Perbix have done so this season. The rule has been in place since 2010, and Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois had a similar rule when he was GM of Montreal’s AHL team before joining the Lightning.
“We make sure that it’s high-grade, and we make sure every player wears the same brand, the same socks, so there’s no differences,” said Wilson, who was previously the head equipment manager at AHL Syracuse. “And if guys tried to not wear them, then they get to discuss that with the management.”
But the wrist is another vulnerable area, Hedman said. Most players don’t play with protection between the bottom of the glove and top of the elbow pad. Hedman shows a regular wristband he recently started wearing on his right wrist that holds an activity-tracking device that monitors his heart rate and calories burned.
“I don’t know if that’s going to help,” he said.
Wilson has cut-resistant wrist guards that grade out to A-5, the second-highest effectiveness according to the league, that aren’t Kevlar infused. Ideally, Wilson would prefer for them to be longer to protect a larger area of the wrist, but they’re still, in his opinion, the most comfortable, form-fitting wrist guards available, he said.
“I haven’t seen anybody change,” Wilson said. “There’s guys that are wearing sweatbands out there, like just an Under Armour or an Adidas or something that has no cut-resistant material on them. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, why not just wear cut-resistant?’ Maybe it doesn’t soak up the sweat as much, but if you need two or three layers to get you through a game, let’s do it. Anything to help.”
Wilson said that after a conversation with BriseBois this week, the equipment staff plans to put the wrist guards in every stall just so players can try them and see how far the technology has come making them more comfortable for players.
“Hopefully, we have a lot of takers,” Wilson said, “and then we’ll just go from there,.”
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