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The downside to playing hurt

May 20, 2010, 7:00 PM EDT

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savarddown.jpgWhen a star hockey player is struggling, it’s not crazy to wonder “Is he hurt? Is he injured?” Some might respond with a token “that’s just an excuse” but in the realm of hockey, playing injured isn’t just common. It’s practically expected.

So whenever you can get a little perspective on what it must be like to deal with pain and play such a violent and demanding sport, it’s fascinating. Former player Justin Bourne provided a great take on the subject in a column for The Hockey News.

In my junior days, I had nearly broken my wrist in the first game of a playoff series against the Merritt Centennials. Merritt had the type of little punk you could backhand in front of his own parents and they’d shake your hand. Sure enough, he isolated my injury. Little slash. Tiny hack. Mini whack – for games on end. And before long, not only was I enraged, I didn’t want to skate anywhere near the kid. I was like Daniel Sedin on David Bolland in Round 2: completely out of my element.

These nagging, pestering aches and pains make you a different player, not because you’re consciously afraid of getting hit, but because you’re somewhat aware there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, play the game. You always have the option to play a safer way without getting singled out for hurting your team, but when “not hurting your team” is the goal, you’ve set the bar exceedingly low and your play suffers.

A decline in play caused by injuries is something that is sometimes overlooked. A player can actually cause harm to his team by playing injured if his effectiveness is limited to nothing. It’s kind of like showing up to work with the flu; sure, in your mind you’re being a “trooper” but you might also get your co-workers sick.

So, on some level, we need to keep some perspective. These athletes already fight through a grueling 82-game season and few are at 100 percent at this time of year. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re also getting paid millions to do so. It’s interesting to wonder who is playing with what, though. I guess that’s why depth is so important in hockey …

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