Some members of the US ice 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 past couple of years there has been a growing trend among National Hockey League (NHL) players trying to protect their lower legs from skate blades. Several manufacturers produce these high-tech socks using a variety of materials — 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 are goalie Jimmy Howard playing for the US, Henrik Zetterberg with Sweden and Pavel Datsyuk with Russia.
“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.”
Winnipeg Jets equipment manager Jason McMaster 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 e-mail to the Associated Press that equipment managers feel the old knit socks helped protect against such nicks and slices.
Four of the Jets are to play in Sochi: Olli Jokinen (Finland), Ondrej Pavalec and Michael Frolik (Czech Republic), and the US’ 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 are used to the equipment they have been wearing for years and do not want to change. Material strong enough to fend off a skate blade also tends to build up heat inside the sock, creating a comfort issue.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan, also coaching the Latvia national team, said some players did not 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 on Feb. 13 last year, 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, does not 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 wears them after being handed a pair when he joined Rochester in the American Hockey League after being drafted in 2012.
“With a lot of pressure you can cut it,” Girgensons said. “But it’s like armor.”