Winnipeg Jets defenceman Mark Stuart was a shot-blocking machine the other night in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He blocked four shots in total. One went off his ankle. Another hit him in the foot. The scariest of all, however, came off the stick of Penguins defenceman Matt Niskanen. His wrist shot dinged Stuart right in the head.
Stuart was rushed to the dressing room, but returned later to action and was there in the end when the Jets held on to celebrate their first victory.
When Niskanen's shot was racing towards Stuart, he managed to drop his head in time, so most of the impact was absorbed by his helmet. Still, he was concerned at the time. His teammates were concerned and the incident almost silenced the devoted Jets faithful at the MTS Centre.
But just imagine what was going on back home in Rochester, Minn., where his mother Nancy and father Michael watched the game.
After all, Michael is Dr. Michael Stuart. He just happens to be the Mayo Clinic's vice-chair of orthopedic surgery and co-director of its sports medicine centre. One of his areas of expertise has been concussions in sports. He helped bring together the leading specialists in concussions last fall for a conference at the Mayo Clinic.
He advocates sportsmanship, respect for opponents, has called for a ban on all headshots in hockey and has urged equipment companies to develop a better, more productive helmet.
Yet, there was his son taking a shot off the head and not wearing a visor.
What, no visor?
"I know, I know," said Mark Stuart, prior to the Jets-Maple Leafs game in Toronto on Wednesday. "It's my choice. My Dad and I have talked about it. Basically, he has told me that 'you know and you are aware of the risks.' He told me it was my choice. It's something I have thought about. You get those close calls. It can be scary. But for now I choose not to wear one and I'm comfortable with that decision."
Stuart is a thoughtful, articulate NHLer. He is proud of his father. He admitted that with Dad knee-deep into concussion research that Mark is more aware and more educated than most of other players in the league.
"I know both sides, you could say," Mark Stuart said. "He does great work. I know it sounds hypocritical of me not to wear a visor. But my Dad does not preach."
And what did the father say to the son after the close call earlier this week?
"He said I should be thankful that I was able to move my head down at the last moment," Mark Stuart said.
Hockey dominates life in the Stuart family. Dr. Mike was raised on baseball and basketball in a small Illinois town. After medical school, he was placed in Rochester, where he could not avoid hockey.
Four kids and a backyard rink
As his family started to grow, so did Dr. Stuart's involvement in hockey. He was the long-time team doctor for the local junior team, the Rochester Mustangs, and along came four hockey-playing kids in sons Mike, Colin, Mark and daughter Cristin. It wasn't too long before the good doctor built a backyard rink for his kids. Cristin went on to play at Boston College. The boys all skated for Colorado College.
Mike, 30, retired in 2010 after a pro career that saw him play a few games for the St. Louis Blues. Colin, 29, is in the Buffalo Sabres system. Mark has made an impact with the Jets after starting his NHL career with the Boston Bruins.
With the Bruins in January 2010, Stuart caught Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar with a clean check just as the Kings forward turned around at his blue-line after taking a pass. Then Kings forward Wayne Simmonds stuck up for his fallen teammate and engaged in a fight with Stuart.
Stuart injured his finger in that fight. The digit later became infected and he spent plenty of time on the sidelines before the infection healed.
"My dad not only knows injury prevention, but he knows hockey," Stuart said. "I respect what he is saying. He realizes it's a hard, tough game out there and things need to be done. The position that he has taken is to have respect for your opponent, but he understands the fighting and the clean checks and the physical play is part of the game. He's a proponent of that, too.
"It's just the other stuff that he has taken a stance on."
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