Against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Oct. 17, the Penguins’ J.M. Daoust suffered a broken jaw when he was hit in the face on a slap shot from the point by teammate Danny Richmond. Daoust was helped to the locker room, but the right wing returned to the ice despite feeling intense pain every time Daoust bumped into another player.Aimee Dilger/the times leader
The list of injuries Dan Bylsma incurred during his professional career reads like an emergency room itinerary on a busy night.
In 12 seasons, Bylsma suffered 26 broken bones (13 in his face, his nose three times, left foot once and nine fingers and toes), damaged his knee, had five surgeries and stopped counting his stitches when number 500 was needled in during his fourth season.
“I didn’t have a ton of serious injuries,” Bylsma said.
Well, maybe not by hockey standards where broken fingers and even broken feet are considered more of an inconvenience than an injury.
Just about every player on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins has an injury story. One of last season’s most compelling reads occurred in the playoffs, when Chris Minard left a playoff game in the third period with a shoulder that was basically pulp. He managed to return in overtime and score the game-winner.
Minard admits the injury was painful, but added not returning to the game was never an option.
“It’s playoff hockey and as long as you can skate you’re fine,” he said. “You just do what it takes.”
“Because you’re getting paid to play the game. We want to compete and you just play through pain to do it. It’s just the way hockey players are and it’s the way we’ve always done it,” Minard said.
Need more evidence?
Fast forward to Oct. 17 of this season when the Penguins faced the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at home. Winger J.M. Daoust was stationed deep in the offensive zone when Danny Richmond launched a slap shot from the point.
The puck didn’t reach the net – it hit Daoust’s jaw first. When he was helped to the locker room, it looked as if Daoust’s night was over.
But not in this sport.
Daoust came back out and finished the game with a broken jaw.
In all fairness, Daoust didn’t know the extent of his injury.
“I didn’t think it was broken and I had all my teeth, so I figured it was just a bruise,” he said.
But there was a sign something was amiss. Every time Daoust bumped into another player he said the pain was intense. That wasn’t enough to keep him off the ice, however.
“It did hurt, but it was my first game in the lineup and I didn’t want to miss my chance,” said Daoust.
Such acts don’t surprise Patrick Steidle, who has been the Penguins trainer since the team’s inception in 1999.
He has treated everything from welts to breaks and is quick to answer which major sport has the toughest players.
“Hockey players rank number one,” he said. “Nothing against football, but they only play once a week. With hockey, every game is a collision sport and they’ll play three games in three days. And they don’t complain at all. That’s just their mentality.”
It’s a mentality that Steidle has to see through when deciding whether a player can play or needs time to heal. After all, the players aren’t going to admit they hurt too much to play.
“They won’t tell you about pain until it is the worst it can be, and then they would still want to play,” Steidle said. “When it comes to concussions – that’s an injury where the player always wants to go back out and that’s when I say no. They want to do it, but they can really harm themselves for the rest of their career.”
Through the years he watched players like Toby Petersen, Alain Nasreddine and Tom Kostopoulos spend the season playing with breaks and dislocations, opting to have surgery after the season was over.
So which player’s tolerance of pain impressed Steidle the most?
Current Pittsburgh Penguin Rob Scuderi.
“When Scuderi was here, he dislocated his shoulder two or three times in one season and played through it. He didn’t have it fixed until the end of the year,” Steidle said.
Despite his lengthy list of injuries, Byslma skated through each season without missing many games.
That changed during the 1998-99 season when Bylsma was playing with the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the IHL.
A shot from Houston Aeros defenseman Norm Maciver struck Byslma in the face, breaking 13 bones and forcing him out of the lineup for an extended time.
Although it takes things like a broken face to force players off the ice, they do get some help to stay on it.
When it comes to hockey and pain, Bylsma got a glimpse of what he was in store for when he played minor league hockey in Moncton. He made it through the season healthy and was getting ready for his first experience of playoff hockey at the professional level.
And that’s when he saw the line of players waiting outside the trainer’s room. They were waiting to get shots – painkillers, to numb their pain so they could play.
“Those guys set the standard for what I expected of myself later on,” Bylsma said. “I was amazed at the level of sacrifice it took to go out and play hockey.”
Which leads to Bylsma’s opinion of which sport has the toughest players.
“Every sport is different. Football players do some ludicrous stuff to play a game,” he said. “But I think hockey players are tough, meaning they’re willing to play with pain. Did I play in the playoffs getting a needle for every game? Yes I did. Did I play regular-season games getting shot up to numb the pain? Yes. Did I numb digits (fingers) to play? Yes. When I was at game 48 and needed to get to game 50 to earn a one-way for the next, did I not tell the trainer I had a broken finger? Yes.”
Daoust recently had his jaw un-wired and is back to skating with his teammates. The injury wasn’t the first time a puck smashed Daoust in the face, and it wasn’t the most painful. Two years ago a teammate’s slap shot struck him behind the ear, forcing him to leave the game.
But only for five minutes. To prevent swelling, Daoust said the trainer wrapped a bandage around his head and adjusted his helmet to a larger size so it would fit. He played, but the pain was severe.
Because Daoust is only 5 feet 7 inches, he is face-level with a rising slap shot. Part of his game is getting in front of the net, and there is always the possibility that another slap shot could strike again.
But such fear doesn’t exist in a hockey player’s mentality.
“I’m not worried about it. I still have to go in front of the net,” Daoust said.
“It’s part of the game.”
Penguins trainer Pat Steidle said sticks cause the most injuries, although the number has dropped since the AHL mandated its players wear visors beginning in 2006. Here are the most common hockey injuries Steidle treats:
1. facial lacerations
2. quad contusion (charley horse)
3. shoulder injuries (separations, dislocations)