Star players could risk injury for national pride
By Rachel Mangan
This year marked the start of the third World Cup of Hockey, which starting with this year’s will occur every four years, much like the World Cup of Soccer. It’s for this reason that the World Cup of Hockey generates so much excitement: from line combinations and teams you would never see in the NHL to a cure for the “offseason blues.”
But, there are some risks that come with playing in the World Cup, the biggest one being injury. As we’ve already seen, many players had to drop out before the start of the tournament due to lingering injuries or the risk for aggravating a current injury.
One of the players I found in the tournament to be most concerning is the presence of Montreal Canadiens goalie, Carey Price.
Price missed most of the 2015-2016 season with a sprained knee ligament, his medial collateral ligament (MCL). The Canadiens had quite possibly the hottest start to a season during 2015-2016 and was an early favorite to win the Cup, but after the injury to Price, the Habs quickly dropped out of playoff contention completely.
This kind of injury is especially common in ice hockey goalies due to the intense strain put on their knees to balance on the ice.
The Canadiens’ head physician Vincent Lacroix explained the decision to keep Price out for the entire season in a press release (via NHL.com)
“The MCL provides support to the inside of the knee and is essential for stability and knee function. Acute, isolated MCL injuries are managed without surgery. Rehabilitation treatments lead to full functional recovery. The recovery process can be long in the case of an elite netminder such as Carey, due to the high demand placed on this anatomical structure by modern goaltending techniques.”
This is especially concerning due to the fact that, although it hasn’t been the exact same injury before, Price has suffered from similar knee injuries in the past. Price suffered from a lower body injury before the MCL injury that I suspect was a warning sign to excessive stress on the MCL.
Back to the World Cup, Price missed the rest of the 2015-2016, but the 29-year-old decided to participate in the World Cup.
Imagine the frustration of the Habs players and coaching staff if Price were to aggravate the injury or tear the MCL in the World Cup without even making it to the Canadiens’ preseason training camp.
This calls into question: is winning the World Cup of Hockey with team Canada a higher priority than playing with the Canadiens and trying to win the coveted Stanley Cup?
Additionally, Price is under contract with the Habs, and an injured and unavailable Price is a big hit to cap space. Price certainly doesn’t want to become an injured liability to the Canadiens’ organization.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalkeeper Matt Murray, for instance, was not injured entering into the World Cup, but as there is a risk for injury in any game, Murray suffered a broken hand injury against team Russia.
Because of this, the young Stanley Cup champion will miss 3-6 weeks.
According to Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Marc-Andre Fleury will step in for Murray when he is injured.
“Fleury said early this week he hoped to get a few preseason games under his belt before heading into the regular season. He has not played regularly since March — ceding the starting role to Murray in the playoffs — but is virtually assured of starting the Penguins 2016-17 opener thanks to Murray’s injury.”
In the case of Murray and Fleury, the injury to the young goalkeeper, who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup while Fleury was hurt last season, will lead Pittsburgh to go with the veteran to start the season.
But unlike Murray being the backup under Fleury to start the season, Price is the Habs’ starter, and he is much more important to Montreal than Murray is to Pittsburgh.
Any sort of injury to his knee could easily result in Price having to miss the beginning of the season.
According to Stu Cowan of Hockey Inside/Out, the intensity of the games in the World Cup compared to those in the preseason are not comparable.
“Rather than getting back into action slowly in NHL preseason games, the 28-year-old Price — who has a history of knee injuries — will immediately be put into playoff-style hockey at the World Cup of Hockey. An injury to Price at the World Cup could end the Canadiens’ playoff hopes before the NHL season even starts.”
The Habs signed Al Montoya over the summer as a safety net behind Price in case he is injured again.
But Price has survived the physicality of World Cup play thus far, but Team Canada will be facing off against Team Europe in the finals, and if hockey fans know anything about a championship being on the line, the game gets even more physical.
If Price can make it through the championship, the prayers of Canadiens fans all over have been answered. But if Price’s luck runs out, and he sustains an injury in the finals, the price of the championship will be described as too great.