Kevlar socks save Bulldogs player from injury similar to Senators star's

Many players on The Hamilton Bulldogs have been wearing Kevlar socks for years, says athletic therapist Luc Leblanc.
Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson (65) grimaces as he falls to the ice after colliding with Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Matt Cooke, left, in a game on Feb. 13. Karlsson suffered a season-ending ankle injury on the play. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

After a cringe-inducing injury ended the season of the NHL's reigning Norris Trophy winner, lots of people started wondering — would Kevlar socks have saved Erik Karlsson's ankle?

The Hamilton Bulldogs seem to think so — in fact, most of the team already wears Kevlar socks over their shin pads.

"A lot of our guys wear them already," said Luc Leblanc, an athletic therapist with the Bulldogs. "Our previous management was very big on player safety, and so is this management."

It's a good thing, too — because the protective socks likely saved a Bulldogs player from a fate similar to the one suffered by the Senators' star earlier this month.

During the second period of the Bulldogs' 3-2 win over the Rochester Americans at the Bell Centre last week, a Hamilton player took a skate to the back of his leg in a scuffle, Leblanc says.

"One of our guys got stepped on with a skate, and thought he tore his ankle open," Leblanc said, while being tight-lipped about which player was involved.

After athletic staff checked the player's ankle, they found only deep bruising where there should have been a gruesome cut.

"If he hadn't been wearing the Kevlar socks, I'm sure he would've torn his tendon," Leblanc said.

The socks have Kevlar fibre woven into them, a material that can’t be easily cut. They look and feel much like regular socks, but provide an extra layer of protection.

The Bulldogs adopted a more stringent policy on Kevlar socks in 2009, after Andrei Markov from the NHL affiliate Montreal Canadiens was out of the game for months following a lacerated Achilles tendon suffered in a game against Toronto.

The AHL's mandated visor policy alongside shot-blocking skate guards, adopted early by the Bulldogs, helps the team be proactive about injury, Leblanc says. It also helps the team protect its investments, since players still get paid when they're hurt.

Some say Kevlar socks are cumbersome on the ice, but Leblanc says that just isn't the case. "Of all the players I've ever talked to, only one has ever said that to me," he said, adding that he thinks the socks should be mandatory.

All this is of little comfort to Karlsson, who required season-ending surgery to repair the laceration to his left Achilles.

Karlsson was driven into the boards by Matt Cooke in the dying moments of the second period of a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and fell to the ice. When he got up, he appeared unable to put any weight on his left leg and skated over to the bench gingerly, flipping his stick to the side in frustration.

Cooke's skate blade made contact with the back portion of the 22-year-old's leg. The Penguins forward has been suspended several times before, but did not face discipline on the play.

Although Karlsson likely won't be on the ice again this season, he says he keeps himself busy by watching golf on television and cheering up his teammates as they prepare to finish the season.