Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall controls the puck during the third period in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes. Kronwall, Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Brad Stuart, and Patrick Eaves use Skate Fenders on their skates to protect the top and sides of their feet during shot blocking.
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DETROIT — Phoenix Coyotes forward Vernon Fiddler once blocked a shot on the top of his left foot that was so hard the puck sliced through his skate and left him limping.
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall wears plastic over his laces to protect a vulnerable part of his feet, a piece of equipment Fiddler eschews.
Fiddler and Kronwall — along with some of their teammates — will risk getting their faces, feet and limbs hit by rock-hard pucks traveling perhaps 100 mph to help their teams win Game 2 today at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit leads the first-round playoff series 1-0.
“It’s one of the things I’m paid to do,” Fiddler said nonchalantly. “I’ve got to get in front of pucks, especially on the penalty kill. It’s part of my game that I like to do because it’s something you have to do to win.
“But it’s not always fun. Al MacInnis hit me when I was playing for Nashville, and I was limping for about four weeks.”
Fiddler said he chooses not to wear Skate Fenders, a relatively new piece of equipment made in Gaylord, Mich., because they get in the way. Kronwall, who used his body to block two shots during Phoenix’s 5-on-3 power play in Game 1, is happy the piece of polycarbonate fits over his laces and around his ankles to protect him from whizzing pucks.
He chose to go without Skate Fenders until Chicago’s Brent Seabrook launched a shot that hit his foot a couple years ago.
“I was lucky I didn’t break anything in my foot, but that’s when I figured I might as well try it,” Kronwall recalled. “You don’t feel them because they’re very light and they give you a little more protection. You’re still going to feel it, but it’s going to help you not get hurt.”
NHL teams began using Skate Fenders last year — both Philadelphia and Chicago had players wearing them in the Stanley Cup finals — and more than half the teams have used them in some way this season.
Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg and Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris weren’t injured blocking shots, but both are expected to miss a second straight game in the series. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Zetterberg will make the trip when the series shifts to Arizona for Game 3 on Monday.
Zetterberg has been skating and trying to strengthen his left knee in the weight room after practices. Morris wasn’t on the ice Friday because of an upper body injury.
Vancouver Canucks forward Maxim Lapierre said his legs look “green, black, blue and yellow” after each season because of the shots he blocks over the course of a regular season and in the postseason.
“You want to pay the price and sacrifice for your team in the playoffs,” Lapierre said. “It is huge to block some shots in the playoffs, our goalies have enough work to do.”
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard is thankful he’s got teammates willing to do whatever it takes to keep the pucks from reaching him. They blocked 18 shots on Wednesday night, allowing 28 to get to Howard in a 4-2 victory.
“When guys tee it up from the back end, it takes a lot of guts to get your body in the way,” Howard said. “Kronner stopped two slap shots that were huge for us during the 5 on 3. If one of those got past him and me, who knows what would’ve happened in that game?”
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