SAN JOSE, Calif. - Minnesota defenseman Kurtis Foster’s broken left leg is the latest gruesome reminder of the dangers of touch-up icing in the fast-paced NHL.
Foster will miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs, after crashing hard into the boards Wednesday night during a race to the puck with San Jose rookie Torrey Mitchell. Foster had surgery Thursday to repair a displaced fracture in his femur, and a stabilizing rod was put into his leg.
Mitchell, who unintentionally touched and tripped Foster just enough to upset his balance, was trying to prevent an icing call against the Sharks by racing to touch the puck before Foster. Icing occurs when a defensive team shoots the puck across two red lines and puts it behind the other team’s goal — but play doesn’t stop unless the offensive team touches the puck first, leading to several scrambles for the puck in most games.
Some of those scrambles are mildly exciting, but Foster’s injury is just the latest in a long line of nasty injuries caused by those mad dashes and quick stops. Despite nearly annual discussions in league meetings, including last month’s general managers’ meetings, the NHL still hasn’t adopted no-touch icing, in which referees stop play as soon as an iced puck crosses the goal line.
“It’s just one of those things that tells you there should be automatic icing, which I’ve been talking about for years,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said after the game. “But I guess that’s a play that people — at least I’ve heard — that’s what fans love to see, a big car wreck like that.
“I don’t know the extent of (Foster’s) injury, but whatever it is, we shouldn’t have those kinds of car wrecks. For all the times you might have somebody beat a guy to a puck on an icing, it doesn’t ever offset a situation where two guys collide and somebody gets hurt on the play.”
The Sharks have particular experience with the injury. In March 2004, forward Marco Sturm broke his leg and dislocated his ankle after running into the boards feet-first while chasing a puck with Colorado’s Adam Foote.
Wilson, influential CBC commentator Don Cherry and other like-minded hockey people have lobbied for years to institute no-touch icing, the same rule used in international play and several minor leagues.
Just as the NHL refuses to require the use of visors in a sport with frozen pucks flying at players’ faces, Wilson thinks a combination of tradition, perceived excitement and machismo keeps no-touch icing out of the league.
Others also say the no-touch rule slows down the game with a handful of extra stoppages in play.
“We’ve talked about it at (NHLPA) meetings,” Toronto forward Matt Stajan told the Canadian Press on Thursday. “It comes up every year. It’s up to the competition committee. I’m sure they’ll look at it again in the summer.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Mitchell clearly didn’t mean to hit Foster in a dangerous manner during the second period of the Wild’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Sharks, yet Foster still left the ice on a stretcher due to the severity of his injury. Foster will spend at least two days recovering at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose before returning home, team spokesman Aaron Sickman said.
“When a guy goes down, you have to battle through it,” defenseman Kim Johnsson said after the game. “You have to keep winning games. Seeing Foster like that, you don’t want to see anyone get hurt like that.”
It’s a big blow for the Wild, who have three upcoming road games in Canada. Minnesota is just three points ahead of Calgary, Colorado and Vancouver in the tight Northwest Division.
If Brent Burns and Nick Schultz are the team’s top two defenseman, Foster was right there behind them. At 6-foot-5, he has plenty of size to be a physical presence at the blue line, but also has been showing a knack for getting involved on the offensive end.
“I thought he was playing great,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “He was playing his best hockey. It’s a big loss.”
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