Getting stitches is part of hockey but it's no laughing matter

Jack Capuano leaves the bench after getting hit

Jack Capuano leaves the bench after getting hit with a puck during the third period of a game against the New Jersey Devils. (Jan. 31, 2013) (Credit: AP)

There is nothing funny about hockey people being left in stitches. But the game's occupational hazard, most recently experienced by Islanders coach Jack Capuano late in Thursday night's victory over the Devils, long ago became virtually unavoidable in an activity featuring flying pucks, flailing sticks and razor-sharp skates.

"It's part of the game," said Islanders center Frans Nielsen, who guessed that he first had to be sewed up -- "somewhere in the face" -- around the age of 18, after he had begun playing without a full face visor.

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald considered he had done "pretty well" not to need stitches until he was about 15, when he was stepped on by another player and sliced a finger. "Cut right through my glove," he recalled. "And I've gotten a few high sticks for stitches in my face. But nothing big.

"When you think about how fast the game is now, and how competitive guys are, it's just impossible not to get banged up," MacDonald said. The hardness of the puck hasn't changed, that's for sure."

Hockey pucks, made of hard vulcanized rubber and weighing between 5.5 and 6 ounces, are kept frozen to reduce bouncing during play, and have been known to inflict serious damage at speeds near 100 mph. During the last of his 16 NHL seasons in 2009-10, then-Philadelphia winger Ian Laperriere needed 100 stitches to close a cut in his face but resumed play one period later. Hall of Fame goalie Gerry Cheevers announced each time a puck bounced off his mask by painting stitches on the mask.

Thursday night, Capuano was reminded that coaching behind the bench is no safe haven, either, when an attempted clearing pass by Islanders rookie Casey Cizikas caught him above the left eye. "Five stitches," Capuano said. And, though he hadn't played an NHL game since 1992, he guessed that his familiarity was such a mending procedure probably dated to his days in Pee Wee (11- and 12-year-olds) or Bantam (13-14).

"I don't really remember," he said. "In the chin, though. Got quite a few in the chin."

Winger Matt Moulson's first stitches came when he cut his lip while riding his bike at 5, so his first hockey incident -- "I was, like, 12 or 13" -- was nothing new. "Had a lot of stitches in my life," he said. "Probably close to a hundred, so they don't really bother me."

Defenseman Mark Streit "just fell" skating when he was "10 or 12," and during his pro career, has never had to deal with more that "smaller stuff, between three and five stitches at a time. Twenty, maybe 30, total."

Center John Tavares' original patch-up job came when he was 16, playing Junior Hockey. "Got hit and my helmet kind of moved and came down and my visor cut my lip," he said. "I remember, when I got cut, my lip was kind of hanging, so I could put my two fingers in my skin. Not through my skin, but I was holding it together.

"I only missed eight minutes of actual game action. But it was a pretty quick stitch job --10 stitches-- so it took a few years for the scarring and thickness of my lip to go down. It was just kind of annoying. The first couple of days was hard to eat."

Nothing funny about it, but all could somehow smile in the retelling.

Note: Forward Josh Bailey, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Jan. 9, participated in his first full practice Saturday.

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