Pretty ugly, wouldn’t you say? The worst part of it all is it could have been so easily avoided – if the NHL would just go to no-touch icing.
What you see above is a photo that accompanies a compelling article written by Michael Russo that appeared in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune about how things are going for Kurtis Foster as he begins his recovery from the horrific injury he suffered in a game on March 19th against the San Jose Sharks. Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell, trying to beat out an icing call, pushed Foster from behind and into the boards, where Foster’s knee absorbed most of the impact, cracking his patella and snapping his femur in half.
There was no malice or intent to injure on Mitchell’s part; just two guys racing full speed at an unforgiving wall. Odds are, every once in a while, something like this is bound to happen.
In fact, it isn’t the first time, and if the rules aren’t changed, it will surely happen again. Al MacInnis dislocating his hip and San Jose’s own Marco Sturm breaking his leg and dislocating an ankle are just two examples of several that have occurred when a player is attempting to beat out an icing.
So the question is: why hasn’t the NHL changed this rule?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that question. And to be totally honest, my knowledge regarding the complexities and nuances of the NHL Rulebook pale in comparison to that of my fellow editors here on MYFO. Ask me about the intricacies of the Instigator Rule or why sometimes a guy is thrown out of the face-off circle when his skates aren’t on the lines but other times they drop the puck anyway and my eyes are likely to glaze over and I will babble-on incoherently (or at the very least much more incoherent than usual).
To me, it seems simple, but we all know that changing rules in sports is never easy. No-touch icing, however, appears much more straightforward than other issues. No-touch icing is used at every other level of competitive hockey, from high school all the way up to international and Olympic competition. Why the reluctance then? It would speed up the game, eliminate some of the dump and chase that occurs all too frequently and most importantly, prevent the kind of injuries that Foster had to unfortunately suffer.
It is often the case that sometimes a face needs to be attached to an issue for it to really hit home. And for me, it was reading Russo’s article this morning. I couldn’t help but be touched by what Foster is going through right now. I understand that hockey is a violent, physical sport and injuries will always be part of playing the game, but how can someone not feel a pang of sympathy reading something like this?
The 26-year-old Wild defenseman talked in great detail about the injury, the 10-hour surgery that followed, the excruciating, twice-a-day physical therapy that’s begun.
And Foster talked nervously — yet optimistically — about the grueling, four- to eight-month rehab ahead of him and his uncertain future in hockey, his voice cracking at times.
Here is a young man, who less than two weeks ago was in such prime physical condition that nearly all of us would not even dare dream about getting close to, ending up exhausted just from getting out of bed and walking to his hospital door.
“Mikko [Koivu] came in Saturday and was here for four hours, and he saw my leg and he couldn’t believe the things I was doing. He had to turn his face at times,” Foster said. “Until you actually come in and see for yourself what it’s like, you don’t actually realize what I’m going through.
“You don’t actually see that my legs are fading away in front of me. Or that I’m in my bed all the time. Or for me to get in my walker and go across the hall and back, I’m done for hours. I’m toast. It’s amazing what this does to you.
The career of a professional athlete can be so brief and so fleeting that in a second it can all be taken away from them. We as fans go between joking and gnashing our teeth about the privileged and glamorous lives these athletes are entitled to live because they can play a game so well, but there are other instances when we get a glimpse of the person behind the facade where all we see are the groupies, the money, the fast cars and the fast living. That’s when we realize how hard some of them have to work to hold on to their careers and maintain their livlihood.
Kurtis Foster is one of those athletes: not a superstar but making a good living, respected, admired and loved by his teammates and from all indications an all-around class act.
It should also be noted that Foster isn’t the only person dealing with this at this time. I imagine Torrey Mitchell thinks about it all the time. How couldn’t he? The San Jose Sharks organization really showed its class when it allowed General Manager Doug Wilson’s personal secretary to be on-call to Foster, often driving his fiancée to and from hospital visits and bringing meals. Foster also spoke of what Wilson told him about Mitchell:
“We talked hockey and life. He told me how broken up Mitchell was, how he was in tears in the penalty box as they carted me off.”
Mitchell also called Foster in the hospital the day after the injury:
“He almost didn’t know what to say,” Foster said. “He said ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t want that to happen.’ I stopped him and said, ‘I know you’re not that type of player and things happen in a game,’ and ‘I’ll be OK, I’ll heal.’
This caused me to wonder how this will affect Mitchell in the long run. The next time a play like this occurs, is he going to hold back? It is often said that when a player goes half-speed or isn’t giving it his all is when bad things can happen. Let’s hope that is not the case for Mitchell.
In an attempt to wrap-up this rather long-winded post, there is a bit of good news to go along with all the doom and gloom: the Minnesota Wild have gone on record as saying they will re-sign Foster to a contract, despite having little idea how well his recovery is going to go, which should give Foster one less thing to worry about as he begins his rehabilitation.
“I won’t lie, I was real worried about that,” Foster said. “I said to [Foster’s fiancée] Steph, ‘I might have to get healthy and work my way into another contract or hopefully get another chance from somebody else.’
“When Wes [Walz] said it was in the paper … I said, ‘Is this for real?’ It’s a gesture that couldn’t be any better. They don’t have to do anything. They don’t know how I’m going to heal. But it’s such a good feeling and makes me want to push harder so they can redeem what they’re doing for me.”
That’s a good thing, too. Foster has a long road ahead of him, including is upcoming wedding this summer.
“My wedding is July 12, and I’m hoping I’ll be walking normal by then. I’m in my friend’s wedding [Columbus Blue Jackets center Derek MacKenzie] June 21, and I joked to him, ‘I wonder if I can get a cane to match my tux.'”
I, for one, hope for nothing but the best for Kurtis Foster and hopefully, his injury can bring about some good and show the NHL why the no-touch icing rule must be adopted.
(Many thanks to Star Tribune photojournalist Jeff Wheeler for the great photos and to Michael Russo for his excellent article)