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NHL

Sales of protective socks up among hockey players

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 11:03 p.m.

On Feb. 13, Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson suffered a serious injury and likely a career setback against the Penguins. But because of that, the severity of such injuries might be reduced and even prevented and hockey careers prolonged.

Sales and use of so-called cut-resistant hockey socks made of Kevlar and other protective materials have increased at all levels of the sport since Matt Cooke's skate almost completely severed Karlsson's left Achilles tendon. The 2012 Norris Trophy winner underwent surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

“Word is really getting out there,” said David Nerman, president of Montreal-based Tuff-N-Lite Hockey, one of several companies that makes protective socks. “It's made people go, ‘Oh my God, this could really happen.' ”

Nerman said sales have risen about 70 percent since Karlsson's injury, with orders coming in from as far away as Norway and Australia.

Perani's Hockey World in Mt. Lebanon said it quickly sold out its supply of socks, which cost about $40 a pair.

“They hadn't been a popular item until (Karlsson's injury). It definitely changed things,” store manager Carla Jeke said.

Beth Crowell, category manager of performance apparel for Bauer, based in New Hampshire, said retailers told her the socks were quickly moving after the injury.

“There's been a heightened awareness about the types of safety products that are out there,” she said.

The socks are designed to protect the area between the shin pad and the top of the skate, “that little space,” said Nerman, adding that Karlsson's injury might have been prevented or lessened if he was wearing protective socks. Nerman and others in the industry agree, however, that no sock is guaranteed to prevent the worst type of cuts.

Kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests, has been the material of choice going back to the advent of protective speed skating socks. Other companies, such as Nerman's, have introduced other fabrics.

Swiftwick, a Brentwood, Tenn., firm, introduced a protective sock it has made available only to NHL clubs. The online site Brentwood Home Page reported that 14 Predators players wore the socks in a game against Phoenix following Karlsson's injury.

But the overall NHL response has been less than enthusiastic. Some players find the socks uncomfortable, others are creatures of habit. Penguins equipment manager Dana Heinze said five players on the team wear the socks. Some of those who don't are considering them.

“I'm not opposed to trying to change, I just haven't gotten to it yet,” Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

Rookie forward Beau Bennett said he has worn protective socks since the start of the season when he played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

“Anything you can have an advantage in as far as not getting injured or having a freak accident, you might as well take advantage of it,” Bennett said.

The Pittsburgh Interscholastic Hockey League does not require its players to wear protective socks, but “it's going to be discussed at one of our meetings,” commissioner Ed Sam said.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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