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The Straight Edge: Hockey show displays new-age protection for players

Patrick Kane's mouthguard is more show than safety, even when it's in his mouth. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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Patrick Kane's mouthguard is more show than safety, even when it's in his mouth. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – The Let’s Play Hockey Show took place at the MGM Grand Casino this week and while the emphasis was naturally on companies making deals, the sport itself will stand to benefit from some of the products being pitched.

Naturally, concussions were covered off in a variety of ways and companies are really bringing the science.

TapouT mouthguards – associated with mixed martial arts, but invented for all contact sports such as hockey and football – was pitching its product based on a patented technology that allows wearers to re-boil their mouthguard. This is especially important for players with braces, since frequent tightenings at the orthodontist shift the structure of the mouth.

According to Mike Evans of TapouT, it’s not enough just to wear a mouthguard, but to keep it fixed.

“When your jaw slides,” he noted, “that’s when you get knocked out.”

So despite the entertainment value of Patrick Kane’s nightly dental gymnastics, a mouthguard shouldn’t actually pop out so easily.

“You gotta get in there with your hands,” added brother Joe Evans, also of TapouT.

On the technical side, the TapouT mouthguard is designed to relax the spine and align the TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint), which is the jaw’s natural defense against shock.

Moving slightly higher on the cranium and already well known in hockey circles is the Mark Messier-endorsed M11 Cascade helmet. Again, concussions are the issue and, as Mark’s sister Mary-Kay notes, education is a huge factor in convincing players how to properly protect themselves. Pros are notoriously fickle when it comes to innovations and convincing them to wear a helmet that protects them more is an uphill battle on several fronts.

“The early feedback was that it looked different,” said Mary-Kay Messier, VP of business development for Cascade. “There’s a perception we’re battling – players draw a link between protection and size and weight.”

And though the helmet falls in the middle of industry weight classes, progress is still coming for The Messier Project. NHLers wearing it now include Toronto’s Garnet Exelby, Carolina’s Aaron Ward and, most topically, Minnesota’s Brent Burns, who just returned from a serious concussion.

When asked about chinstrap tightness on helmets, Messier agreed it is something that needs to be addressed. She said even midget players, who wear cages on their helmets, sometimes wear those cages so low that it nullifies any safety features and actually leads to chin injuries when they are hit.

“Is it psychological?” she posited. “How can we as a sport maintain our heritage and at the same time, evolve?”

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Fortunately, The Messier Project has the ear of a lot of folks, including Hockey Canada and the GMs of the NHL.

“Our goal is to change priorities in sport,” Messier said. “The really encouraging thing is people are talking about it.”

Another issue people have been talking about this year is skate-induced laceration injuries, such as the leg slashes sustained by Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov.

Tactics Socks, which have been in development for several years, but are now very quickly relevant on a mass scale, are made with Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests and also the arm sleeves worn by industrial factory workers (where the sock model came from). Ward was recently given a pair and according to Tactics, seven NHL teams plus the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey squad have tried them out.

The socks aren’t cut-<i>proof, but they are cut-resistant and tested at DuPont labs. The key for Marshall Ferneyhough of Tactics, is that the socks (worn directly on the leg and under hockey socks) are thin and aren’t intrusive.

“Why not protect yourself?” Ferneyhough noted. “If there’s a technology out there, why not use it?”

Ferneyhough’s business partner, Justin Bracci, saw first-hand what can happen when he was cut by a skate blade while breaking up a fight during a game. As a minor league hockey coach, his team took several skate-slash injuries and even one was too many.

“I think there was a lot of thought and demand for this,” Ferneyhough said.

While change comes slow, new innovations can help players largely preserve their on-ice ways, but ensure they stay in one piece, too.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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