When Washington Capitals players showed up for practice Wednesday, they were greeted with a note from general manager George McPhee and a box of Kevlar-reinforced Reebok socks. After Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson had his left Achilles sliced by a skate blade last week, the Caps are recommending players to at least try the cut-proof socks.
“I think it’s really smart, actually,” said center Jay Beagle, who has worn his own brand of Kevlar-reinforced socks for years since being nicked by a skate blade in Hershey. “Even when Karlsson went down with that, me and [Eric Fehr], Fehrsie also has been wearing them and we said right away, we were like, ‘I can’t believe everyone doesn’t wear them.’ ”
A vast majority of players tried out the socks for practice and several players said they’d give it a go in Thursday’s game. In addition to Beagle, Fehr, Alex Ovechkin and Roman Hamrlik, who wore the Kevlar socks prior to Karlsson’s injury, almost everyone gave them a shot for at least a day.
“They’re not that bad,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I’ve tried them out before, and my problem is I felt the foot was too slippery. My foot was kind of wiggling around in there. They didn’t feel as bad this time but they definitely take some getting used to.”
Hamrlik has worn them since it was mandated in Montreal following Achilles cuts to Canadiens players Robert Lang and Andrei Markov in 2009 that required surgery.
“Unfortunately these things happen, but you try to avoid them [by doing] many things like the socks and stuff like that,” Hamrlik said. “Hopefully they’re going to help. Nobody wants to get hurt and be out four or five months.”
The Caps are not mandating the Kevlar socks, but the recommendation was clear.
“There was just a box of socks in the room today and so we obviously put it together that that’s what they wanted us to do,” Alzner said. “Everyone grabbed a pair. Some guys tried them on, some guys had them thrown off right away. It’s all preference. If you’re willing to take the chance you take the chance then you take the chance. If I can get used to them then I have no problem wearing them.”
Defenseman John Erskine wasn’t sure how to feel after one day. Jeff Schultz’s first impression wasn’t exactly glowing.
“This is the first time I’ve worn them and I’m not a fan,” Schultz said. “Just the material. They’re sliding in the skate a little bit.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby tried out the Kevlar, too, and described the feeling as “slippery.”
“I didn’t really notice them. They felt a little bit slippery at first but as the practice went on now they feel good,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “I didn’t really notice them that much. They’re good. I’ll probably wear them, stick to them.”
Center Mathieu Perreault didn’t see any difference, either, though some teammates expressed some dissatisfaction.
“They don’t want that to happen to anybody on our team so just try them in practice and if you like them wear them and if not, go back to your old ones,” Schultz said.
Forward Joey Crabb said he planned on making the switch from his regular, lightweight socks to Kevlar after seeing what happened to Karlsson Feb. 13. The reigning Norris Trophy winner had his left Achilles tendon sliced by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke’s left skate blade and is out for the season.
“You know what, after what happened to Karlsson, obviously that’s a scary injury for everybody,” coach Adam Oates said. “It’s just one of those things that anytime anything happens bad, something new shows up. You address it and you evaluate it.”
Beagle, who will go back to the Kevlar socks that Hershey Bears trainer Dan “Beeker” Stuck provided for him several years ago. He tried to cut the Reebok socks with an X-Acto knife and had some measure of success.
But he knows his socks are cut-proof. He has tested them.
If a small change like this can prevent a serious injury, several players said it makes sense to try.
“I’m on board,” Hendricks said. “If it’s something that doesn’t take a lot of getting used to then yeah, it’s definitely a good idea.”
Perreault knows it’s a good idea for a player who’s generously listed at 5-foot-10.
“I usually wear, for games, like an under-pad, too, with just ribs,” he said. “I just try to get as much protection I can get. I’m a little guy, so I should protect myself.”
But skate cuts affect more than just short people, so expect several players to sport the Kevlar socks for at least a game to see how it feels.
“If I play good then it will turn into a superstition,” Alzner said.