Penguins minor league report: Skate-blade injuries are tough to eliminate

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

WILKES-BARRE — Last week, center Zach Sill had surgery after a skate blade sliced the inside of his left arm in a Jan. 25 game in Norfolk.

In 2012, Baby Pens center Zack Torquato, then playing for the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers, lost the tip of the middle finger on his right hand, when he was stepped on by an opposing player.

In 2009, the skate of a Hershey Bears player ripped through tendons, nerves and an artery in the wrist of Phoenix Coyotes winger Paul Bissonnette, who was then playing for the Baby Pens.

That's three major skate-blade injuries in five years in the Penguins minor league system.

They're not the kind of injuries that a rule change could easily eliminate or the team or players could take particular evasive action to avoid. It's just bad luck.

“They're normal hockey plays that wind up with a tough injury,” coach John Hynes said.

Sill got the best news he could have hoped for after surgery. He is expected back before the end of the season, continuing a career year that has seen him play 20 NHL games.

Baby Pens equipment manager Paul DeFazio said a handful of players wear cut-resistant Kevlar-infused hockey socks or wrist guards, more in the NHL than the AHL, but the gear has yet to gain widespread acceptance. Even if it does, players know a skate-blade injury is at least an outside possibility at all times.

“Like with any injury, if you want to keep playing, you can't worry about it or dwell on it,” Torquato said. “It isn't anything you can really learn from.”

Angry goalie

AHL referees apparently are not as vigilant about stopping goalie fights as their NHL counterparts.

Two days after officials prevented Marc-Andre Fleury from fighting Montreal's Peter Budaj, Baby Pens netminder Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers exchanged punches with Whitehall native John Gibson of the Norfolk Admirals.

The goalies fought when they crossed paths at center ice at the end of a TV timeout after a scuffle in Deslauriers' crease.

“Hockey's an emotional game, stuff happens, and that's about it,” Deslauriers said.

Hot goalie

Goalie Eric Hartzell is heating up three months into his first pro season. Heading into this weekend, he was 5-1 with a 1.24 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in January. He's allowed two goals or fewer in 11 straight appearances and is second in the AHL with three shutouts.

“A lot of it is just experience, getting a chance to play a few more games,” Hartzell said.

Coming on strong

Ryan Segalla, the Penguins' fourth-round selection in last June's draft, has picked up the pace midway through his freshman year at UConn. A 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman, Segalla has a goal and three assists in eight games since Jan. 1. UConn is 5-1-2 in those games.

Segalla has been a regular in the Huskies' top four, earning praise from his coach for his strength in puck battles. He is the first player in program history to arrive on campus having already been drafted.

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