Joni Pitkanen injury reignites hybrid icing debate

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RALEIGH, N.C. | Joni Pitkanen left Tuesday night’s game with a broken left heel when the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman tried to win a race for an icing touch-up. Pitkanen was in pain and could not even get up; it was so severe that he had to be wheeled off the ice on a stretcher.

Late in the second period, Pitkanen beat Washington Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer to the loose puck to get the icing call, but his right leg crashed into the boards in the process. It was obvious right away that Pitkanen had a serious injury.

Following a long delay to get medical personnel in place, Hurricanes teammates Tim Gleason, Bobby Sanguinetti and Jiri Tlusty helped wheel Pitkanen off in the stretcher in a surreal scene at PNC Arena.

Pitkanen’s season is over with a broken calcaneus bone, the team announced.

It’s a real tough thing, it really is,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “Obviously you don’t want a guy ever to be hurt.”

Pitkanen’s injury is sure to reignite the hybrid icing debate. NHL general managers approved the switch to hybrid icing, which would mean a race to the faceoff dot instead of the puck.

I think it’s long overdue,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. “There’s no real benefit in the game on it compared to what can happen to guys. The automatic icing, it should be there for sure.”

Brandon Prust of the Montreal Canadiens suffered a separated shoulder on an icing touch-up last month and missed two weeks.

The American Hockey League experimented with hybrid icing this season while the NHL lockout was going on, and commissioner Dave Andrews liked what he saw.

It was put into place as a test for player safety,” Andrews said Dec. 6 at Verizon Center. “It’s got to the point where I don’t really notice it.”

Andrews also said linesmen adjusted to the change without much difficulty. It becomes more like judging offside because it’s a race to a spot instead of the puck.

It sounds more complicated than I guess it is,” Andrews said. “There’s been no complaints that they aren’t making the right calls or handling it correctly.”

The AHL stopped using hybrid icing when the NHL season began because Andrews didn’t want players shuttling between the leagues having to think about which rule was in place.

General managers’ approval does not mean hybrid icing will definitely be instituted for the 2013-14 season. The NHL Players’ Association has a voice in this process, as it must be cleared with the competition committee.

Currently the NHLPA does not see hybrid icing as an improvement over the current system.

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Kurtis Foster suffered a broken leg on an icing touch-up in 2008. He said in a text message to Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis: “Now that a star like Pitkanen hurt on icing, when is it enough?? No need for it anymore!!!!!!!!”

Oates didn’t really give a position on hybrid icing.

“Those are important plays,” the Caps’ coach said. “If Brouw lifts his stick and gets a piece of it, then we have possession. That’s right to the very last second. That’s a very, very important play. That’s why it’s such a tough decision.”

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