MONTREAL – The frightening collision with a stanchion at the Bell Centre that seriously injured Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty may have had one positive result—focusing attention on arena safety.
Two manufacturers—one in Canada, the other in the United States—say they have products that may not have spared Pacioretty entirely from harm. But they could reduce injuries from similar collisions with the protective glass and the stanchions that hold up the glass along the boards.
Sports Resources Group of Minneapolis has developed thicker, better-fitting padding for stanchions called Fusion Safety Pads that it says could significantly reduce concussions from impact.
Riley Manufacturing of Woodstock, Ont., has developed what it calls flush glass, which eliminates the short ledge before the glass starts at the top of the boards, where players sometimes knock their heads or bruise their ribs.
Both products are getting a closer look this week amid the controversy of Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara’s hit that sent Pacioretty head-first into the stanchion and glass separating the players benches. The result was the 22-year-old suffering a severe concussion and fractured vertebra in his neck.
”If Pacioretty ran into our pad, I can’t guarantee there would be no injury, but it would reduce the impact,” said Chris Guertin, president of Sports Resources Group. ”Hopefully, if the same hit happens a year from now, the player gets up and skates away.”
Making rinks safer is expected to be discussed when the NHL’s 30 general managers meet next week in Boca Raton, Fla.
And NHLPA executive director Don Fehr’s response to the Pacioretty incident this week focused on improved safety. He said in a statement it ”reinforces the importance of maximizing the safety in this area and highlights the need to look further into the matter.”
He said the union would inspect the rink in Montreal and others to ensure proper padding is in place and will seek input from players on safety issues.
Guertin said stanchions are placed at ”termination points”—the places near the players benches where the glass stops. To eliminate them would require having glass that goes all the way around the rink. But that would prevent players from hopping the boards on line changes and force them to enter the leave the bench one at a time through the gate.
The one Pacioretty hit was in a section that divides the two teams’ benches and acts as a shelter for anyone going to or from the bench during play, including TV cameramen and rinkside analysts. Many NHL arenas have similar protection.
He said standard padding is between one and two inches (2.5 to five centimetres) thick and has to be stretched around the posts, while his product is 2.5 inches (6.4 centimetres) thick and is built at a 90-degree angle to fit tightly.
He said tests have shown that a hard, straight-on hit against an unprotected post will produce a concussion virtually 100 per cent of the time. That’s reduced to 64 per cent of the time with the current industry standard and only one per cent with Fusion padding.
”You’ll never get it down to zero, but you can reduce the impact,” he said.
Sean Riley, president of Riley Manufacturing, said having glass flush with the inner edge of the boards has resulted in positive feed back from players in rinks where it is in place. With acrylic glass, it is as flexible as what is currently used in the NHL.
Players hit their heads against the ledge and some, such as Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, end up with concussions. Others knock their hips and ribs against them.
He said the NHL has some issues with it. Officials use the ledge to jump up and avoid being hit by the puck and the players would have to get used to the puck moving differently, but both could adjust.
”In my opinion, it’s certainly going to drastically reduce the risk of injuries,” he said. ”You’re never going to eliminate them, but if you can remove the ledge, why not go with it?”
Riley was the company that in 1984 produced the magnetic net now used in the NHL and most other leagues after many players were injured in crashes into the previous goals, which were set rigidly in place on moorings. They build a variety of arena equipment and also distribute the Fusion pads.
Riley said he was as horrified as anyone to see replays of Pacioretty slamming against the stanchion.
”It’s not something you want to see,” he said. ”To be honest, even with a better pad I don’t know if he would walk away from that.
“It’s unfortunate, but you see hits like that once a decade.”
However, he admits it may be good for those in the safety equipment business, but added: ”It’s unfortunate that it took an incident like that for people to look at arena safety.”