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Wild D Foster out for season after latest touch-up icing collision

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Minnesota defenceman Kurtis Foster's broken left leg is the latest gruesome reminder of the dangers of touch-up icing in the NHL.

Foster will miss the rest of the season, including the playoffs, after crashing hard into the boards Wednesday night during a race to the puck with San Jose rookie Torrey Mitchell. Foster had surgery Thursday to repair a displaced fracture in his femur, and a stabilizing rod was put into his leg.

Mitchell, who unintentionally touched and tripped Foster just enough to upset his balance, was trying to prevent an icing call against the Sharks by racing to touch the puck before Foster.

Some of these types of scrambles are mildly exciting, but Foster's injury is just the latest in a long line of nasty injuries caused by those mad dashes and quick stops. Despite nearly annual discussions in league meetings, including last month's general managers' meetings, the NHL still hasn't adopted no-touch icing, in which referees would stop play as soon as the puck crosses the goal-line.

"It's just one of those things that tells you there should be automatic icing, which I've been talking about for years," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said after the game. "But I guess that's a play that people - at least I've heard - that's what fans love to see, a big car wreck like that.

"I don't know the extent of (Foster's) injury, but whatever it is, we shouldn't have those kinds of car wrecks. For all the times you might have somebody beat a guy to a puck on an icing, it doesn't ever offset a situation where two guys collide and somebody gets hurt on the play."

The Sharks have particular experience with the injury. In March 2004, forward Marco Sturm broke his leg and dislocated his ankle after running into the boards feet-first while chasing a puck with Colorado's Adam Foote.

Wilson, Don Cherry and other like-minded hockey people have lobbied for years to institute no-touch icing, the same rule used in international play and several minor leagues.

Just as the NHL refuses to require the use of visors, Wilson thinks a combination of tradition, perceived excitement and machismo keeps no-touch icing out of the league.

Others also say the no-touch rule slows down the game with a handful of extra stoppages in play.

"We've talked about it at (NHLPA) meetings," Toronto forward Matt Stajan told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "It comes up every year. It's up to the competition committee. I'm sure they'll look at it again in the summer.

"Personally, I like the race for the puck, but obviously people are getting hurt. Sometimes hits are being thrown, and you wonder about the respect factor. Every time there's an injury, it makes everyone aware of it again. Eventually there will probably be something done."

Leafs defenceman Antron Stralman had only known no-touch icing in his native Sweden until coming over to the NHL this season.

"The first time I got here I thought it was a little scary, always having someone chasing you into the boards," said Stralman. "Most guys have respect and they don't finish checks when there's an icing. I actually think the way it is here is pretty good, it keeps the momentum in the game. There's not a lot of whistling all the time.

"Back home there's a lot of breaks, a lot of whistles, you lose a bit of the pace of the game. So I think (touch icing) is a good thing."

But the Foster injury made everyone wince in the Leafs' dressing room.

"I mean, it's always going to be situations like that when it's 50-50 for the puck," said blue-liner Staffan Kronwall, who also grew up in Sweden playing no-touch icing. "And those situations can end up being unlucky for some guys. But it's been the rule here forever I think, I kind of feel like it's part of the game over here. I definitely feel like that injury last night would not happen with no-touch icing."

Mitchell clearly didn't mean to hit Foster in a dangerous manner during the second period of the Wild's 4-3 shootout loss to the Sharks, yet Foster still left the ice on a stretcher due to the severity of his injury. Foster will spend at least two days recovering at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose before returning home, team spokesman Aaron Sickman said.

"When a guy goes down, you have to battle through it," defenceman Kim Johnsson said after the game. "You have to keep winning games. Seeing Foster like that, you don't want to see anyone get hurt like that."

Losing Foster is a big blow for the Wild, who have three upcoming road games in Canada. Minnesota is just three points ahead of Calgary, Colorado and Vancouver in the tight Northwest Division.

If Brent Burns and Nick Schultz are the team's top two defenceman, Foster was right there behind them. At six foot five, he has plenty of size to be a physical presence at the blue line, but also has been showing a knack for getting involved on the offensive end.

"I thought he was playing great," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "He was playing his best hockey. It's a big loss."

-With files from Canadian Press hockey writer Pierre LeBrun in Toronto


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