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Penguins weigh benefit of skate protection

| Wednesday, May 5, 2010

MONTREAL — Feeling, not seeing, is believing for NHL players who opt to wear protective gear on their skate boots.

For that reason, Penguins left wing Matt Cooke plans to work a few more practices before deciding to strap a custom-fit piece of Plexiglass known as "ProTechtor" to each boot — a move that Cooke said would prevent his skates from being cut again by Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.

"Initially, you think you're going to catch (the shield) or you're worried about the weight," Cooke said Tuesday before the Penguins played at Bell Centre in Game 3 of a second-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

"The benefit of a custom fit is that it's molded to your skate, it won't stick out and it will fit snug."

That was the thinking of Montreal-based orthopedist Francois Blondin, who designed "ProTechtor" early during the regular season when he was contacted by Canadiens management. Montreal officials sought protection for players after realizing that the shot-blocking ways of coach Jacques Martin's teachings could lead to high numbers of foot injuries.

Blondin said he adapted a design of on-the-market skate shields that were black, opting for Plexiglass because "it couldn't be cut and if it cracked from a shot or slash, it would have protected the boot."

Also, the clear nature of Plexiglass "lets you see the brand of the skate sponsor."

"That's a big thing with players," he said, laughing. "Those are important contracts."

Five current Canadiens wear Blondin's shields, including former Penguins defenseman Hal Gill, who didn't don boot protection before signing with Montreal last summer.

Penguins defenseman Jordan Leopold started wearing "ProTechtor" gear with the Florida Panthers — one of four NHL teams with which Blondin said he has supplied the skate gear.

"I broke my foot halfway through the year and I need a little bit more protecting," Leopold said. "These guards tend to ricochet pucks and you don't absorb the force as much. That's about all I need to know.

"It takes about two days to get used to and there's a little bit added weight, but other than that they're real comfortable and not a hindrance at all."

Cooke was not a fan of previous skate shields. However, after his skate was cut by Subban on Sunday afternoon in Game 2 at Mellon Arena, he opted to wear an older, cracked pair of Leopold's "ProTechtor" shields since in practices.

Penguins players interested in Blondin's product will meet with him today after practice at Bell Centre. Cooke will be part of that group — which could include injured center Jordan Staal, who required surgery Friday night after a tendon in his right foot was severed by Subban's skate.

Blondin, who will meet with players from the Boston Bruins this weekend, said "ProTechtor" skate gear would eliminate the risk of a similar injury to Staal's feet.

He has not yet heard if Staal, who briefly skated in a track suit before a morning practice yesterday, plans to try out his product.

However, Blondin offered a strong pitch for the safety it would provide Staal or any Penguins player.

"Every pair I make I hit with a sledgehammer," he said. "If it doesn't bounce a couple of times, then I make a new pair until it does. If a sledgehammer can't break it, a player should feel pretty good."

Clear and present

Penguins left wing Matt Cooke is contemplating joining defenseman Jordan Leopold in wearing clear, Plexiglas protection on his skates. The shield, known as "ProTechtor," is custom made by Montreal-based orthopedist Francois Blondin, who will visit the Penguins today. The details on his creation:

Material: Plexiglass, elastic strap

Weight: approximately 2 ounces

Process: Players skates, with feet inserted, are molded by Blondin to create a "rigid structure that form-fits to the specifics boots." He can make three pairs of "ProTechtors" over a period of two days.

Teams that use gear: Abbotsford, Hamilton (AHL); Florida, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto (NHL)

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