Nikolai Kulemin was the first Leaf winger to fall to what the papers were calling friendly fire. This was October and the season hadn’t even started when in practice he caught a teammate’s shot on the ankle, which chipped the bone. Two weeks he was out of the line-up. Same thing happened at the end of the month to Joffrey Lupul, “plunked” in practice, as The Toronto Sun put it — though Lupul’s was only a bone-bruise, and he missed but two games.
That was no solace to Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. Both players should have been wearing plastic foot-guards over their skates, as mandated by the team for players at practice. It was just common sense, said Carlyle. “You don’t drive your car any more without a seatbelt. It’s basically the same principle.”
Modern-day foot-guards — they’re also called shotblockers — are light and resilient. They’ve come a long way since the steel-mesh prototype that the man they called “hockey’s Edison” came up with in 1939. By then, of course, Art Ross (above) had long since retired from a stellar playing career. He’d been managing the Boston Bruins since 1924. He’d already re-invented the hockey net by the time he turned his attention to trying prevent foot and ankle injuries, and in 1940 he’d get his patent on a refined puck.
In December of 1939, at the NHL’s Board of Governors meetings in New York, Canadian Press was reporting that Ross’ skate chainmail was an experiment tried and abandoned, having “proved unsatisfactory.” Already he had a new idea, and the league had approved it for trial: “a new-style stick, which combines a wooden handle, steel tube shaft and wooden blade.”