NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Some members of the U.S. hockey team heading to the Sochi Games this weekend will be carrying some high-tech gear with them that will be kept under wraps.
Socks. Very high-tech, performance socks.
During the last couple years there’s been a growing trend among NHL players trying to protect their lower legs from skate blades. Several manufacturers produce these high-tech socks using a variety of material — including Kevlar and copper — to save calf muscles, Achilles tendons and a player’s feet.
Detroit equipment manager Paul Boyer has many of his players wearing the socks, and among the Red Wings heading to Sochi include goalie Jimmy Howard playing for the Americans, Henrik Zetterberg with Sweden and Pavel Datsyuk with the Russians.
“I’ve got guys jumping into them because of the safety factor,” Boyer said. “If a guy is wearing them and a skate goes across his calf or Achilles tendon, they’re going to be protected. If there’s enough pressure per square inch, the socks can be cut. But a guy will probably have only a mark instead of a cut.”
Jason McMaster, equipment manager for the Winnipeg Jets, is even more succinct: “It’s the difference between a player missing little to no games to missing a large portion of the season.”
Socks became an issue in recent years with companies switching from knit to thin performance material. McMaster wrote in an email to The Associated Press that equipment managers feel the old knit socks helped protect against such nicks and slices.
Four of the Jets will be playing in Sochi: Olli Jokinen (Finland), Ondrej Pavalec and Michael Frolik (Czech Republic) and American Blake Wheeler. McMaster has packed four pairs of each player’s favorite cut-resistant socks with their equipment for the Olympics.
“I would like to see every player wear cut resistant socks,” McMaster said. “Anything to keep the players healthy is very important us. The socks may not stop all injuries, but if you can minimize the severity of an injury you have helped keep the player on the ice.”
Getting players to try the high-tech socks has been challenging. By the time players reach the NHL or Olympic level, they’re used to the equipment they’ve been wearing for years and don’t want to change. Material strong enough to fend off a skate blade also tends to build up heat inside the sock making for a comfort issue.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan, also coaching the Latvian National Team, said some players didn’t even wear socks back in the day. His son, Los Angeles Kings center Jordan Nolan, does wear cut-resistant socks.
“Skates are pretty sharp,” Nolan said.
When Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson had his left Achilles tendon sliced by Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke’s left skate Feb. 13, 2013, players went to equipment managers asking for a sock to protect themselves.
There are still some holdouts. Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who will be playing for Sweden, doesn’t wear the cut-resistant socks but is open to a change.
“If you see how Karlsson got cut, I have a hard time seeing him not getting cut with a non-cut sock, you know what I mean,” Tallinder said.
His Buffalo teammate Zemgus Girgensons (ZEHM-guhz GEER-gehn-suhns) wears them after being handed a pair when he joined Rochester in the AHL after being drafted in 2012. He once tested the socks to check how well they protect against sharp objects, and he finally punched through the material because he said he couldn’t tell a difference from his old socks either from the look or feel.
“With a lot of pressure you can cut it,” Girgensons said. “But it’s like armor.”
The center will be wearing his cut-resistant socks in Sochi with the Latvian National Team.
“That’s a smart thing to do because you saw Karlsson got cut,” Girgensons said. “That’s just one way to avoid unnecessary injury.”