Sports Hockey

Young player sidelined by injury

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

In 2013, Ottawa Senators player Erik Karlsson suffered a serious injury to his Achilles tendon, the tendon that attaches the heel to the calf. As Karlsson bent his knee, a gap opened between the back of his leg and the stiff back of his skate, allowing the skate blade of Pittsburgh Penguin forward Matt Cooke to slice into his leg, cutting the tendon.

Karlsson required surgery. There were fears that he would be out for the season, although he was back in the line-up in just 10 weeks.

The incident sparked interest in Kevlar socks, which would have provided protection – but the socks were never made mandatory, certainly not in minor hockey.

Which is why 14 year old Jackson Carruthers, while wearing shinpads, a helmet and all of the other mandated protective gear, wasn’t wearing cut-proof socks when he suffered a similar injury Feb. 26.

Jackson’s Aurora Tigers Bantam AA hockey team was playing against Stouffville, when a player’s skate slid into the gap and sliced through 90% of his tendon. The team’s trainer and therapist immediately responded, immobilizing his leg, and Jackson was rushed to Southlake Regional Health Centre for emergency surgery.

Days later, Jackson was back again, for more surgery and a temporary cast. He was scheduled to go in again March 14, for further assessment. His season is over – just at a critical time.

“It’s an ugly injury, and a challenging situation,” says dad Brian Carruthers. “He was Aurora’s top scorer. He was really hoping to make the York Simcoe Express AAA team. His dreams have been delayed.”

Carruthers suggests that it’s the design of today’s skates that contributed to the injury. Older, more flexible skates could be taped to the shin pads, “and nothing could get in there.” The newer, stiffer skates allow a 4” gap to open between the skate and the leg – wide enough for a sharp blade to enter, and sever a young player’s dreams.

Kevlar socks could have prevented the injury, but citing expense (the socks generally cost upward of $40 a pair) and comfort, there has been no move to require players to be equipped with the added safety gear.

Bradford West Gwillimbury Minor Hockey Association said that they have no record of injuries as severe as Jackson’s, and no plans to make Kevlar socks mandatory.

“We know that they are available and some of our players use them, but the choice is theirs,” said president Paul Dossey.

The  Ontario Minor Hockey Association takes a similar approach.

“Based on injury reports we received over the course of the season, two leg lacerations were reported, neither of which required a lengthy absence from hockey, or were as severe,” said Matt Rhodes, manager of communications with the OMHA. “We do not have any intention of making Kevlar socks mandatory at this time. Creating a safe environment for our youth to enjoy the benefits of hockey is always our biggest priority, but this has not been a prevalent issue in our sport.”

But Aurora Minor Hockey is taking a different approach. Having seen the devastating injury to one of its top young stars, AMHA is looking at making Kevlar socks mandatory for its players.

It’s an approach that has the full support of both Jackson and his dad. Jackson remembers that, in the moments after his injury, “I tried to stand up,”  but couldn’t. His assistant coach and trainer quickly wrapped and immobilized his leg, and he was rushed to hospital, accompanied by his parents who were in the stands.
Wearing a temporary cast, Jackson says, “It still hurts a little.” Asked if he would have worn the protective socks, had he known of the potential for injury, his answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Dad Brian would like to see skate manufacturers go back to the drawing board, to alter their design. “If it can be prevented by having the equipment changed, that would be great,” he says, but admits it’s unlikely. The simpler solution is making Kevlar socks mandatory.

The injuries are rare, Carruthers admits. “It’s like being struck by lightning.” But, he says, “I’d hate to see it happen to anyone else.”

Jackson’s Assistant coach Mark MacDougall, a certified Athletic Therapist, was the first to respond and tend to the wound. “I have seen a few ugly injuries over the years but in coaching my kids over roughly a 12 year period, not a cut to the Achilles like this,” MacDougall says. He also suggests a change in equipment, but not to the skates. “Why not put Kevlar in the back of the uniform sock? You don’t need it on the front, where the shin pad is. All it takes is one community to go to the manufacturer and ask if it is possible. Yes, they will be more expensive – but then the next season, another community will ask, and in no time it will be standard. I am sure every therapist and trainer in the NHL has thought of this.”