It was nearly three years ago when Kurtis Foster suffered one of the scariest injuries seen in the NHL, forcing him to miss the final eight games of the 2007-08 season and the first 50 of 2008-09.
Foster broke his left leg in several places after crashing into the boards chasing the puck for an icing call with Torrey Mitchell of the San Jose Sharks. Now recovered and playing for the Edmonton Oilers, Foster is speaking out about his gruesome injury in hopes of producing a change in the NHL rule book.
"I don't want to see somebody go through what I went through, or something even worse, for them (NHL) to change a rule that, really, we're the only league, I think, left in the world that has the rule still," Foster told TSN's Ryan Rishaug.
Foster, playing with the Minnesota Wild at the time, still recalls the hit vividly, but it's what happened afterward that still sticks out more in his mind.
"Well, basically everybody knows that I had the metal put in my leg," said Foster. "But the part that a lot of people don't know, and I'm ready to talk about now, is that the surgery was supposed to take four hours and it ended up taking about 10. And the problem was that when they went in there was so much bleeding, and I lost so much blood, that it took them so long to put everything back together."
Foster's blood loss was concerning for a number of reasons, not just the amount of time it took surgeons to piece together his shattered leg.
"Your hemoglobin level is around a 12.5 in most humans and after my surgery I was down to six and a half," said Foster. "So I basically lost half the red blood in my body."
Foster added that doctors have since told him that when hemoglobin levels drop to the fours or fives, you're at risk of dying on the table from bleeding out.
Now, the 29-year-old veteran is speaking out about his injury that nearly cost him his life for the first time, trying to convince the NHL to make a rule change on touch-up icing and prevent his injury from ever happening to anyone else.
The NHL did change the icing rule after his injury, penalizing any unnecessary or dangerous contact between two players racing for the puck on an icing call, but Foster would like the rule changes to go further still.
"It's a start," said Foster. "But I think it's one of those rules that, like a lot, when it comes to crunch time in the last 20, 30 games of the season, when if there's a little bump on an icing, I don't think it's going to be called."
There are two key factors stalling the momentum for change. The first is that the NHL is averaging just over six icing calls per game, the lowest number in league history. By comparison, the number was around 12 per game before the lockout.
The second issue is there have been few injuries of this nature over the past two seasons, which has taken the item off the front burner. But Foster's point is - why wait until the worst happens?
"They talk about head-shots and all these things that they've been working on and I think the biggest thing is that, because people have been getting injured and there have been more concussions, they're taking more of a look at it," he said. "To this day I wonder, not that I would have wanted that to happen, but if I had been injured even worse or if my career had have been over, or if I had have lost my leg because of the blood loss, I wonder if the rule had have been changed."
Foster knows that NHL purists will likely always fight the no-touch icing rule, but said he thinks the league could adopt the hybrid icing rule used in the USHL, which allows the linesmen to blow the play down if the defenceman is clearly leading the race for the puck.
"If they were to try the hybrid rule I think it would help, and it would definitely lead to bigger and better things," he said. "Why not try it in the preseason and then see how it goes, and then make a decision before the season."
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke shares Foster's concern about the icing rule, and said that it's an issue teams are not ignoring.
"I think it's something we need to look at," said Burke. "I think fans need to understand it's not something the general managers just sweep under the rug and shrug and say 'defencemen get hurt, so what?' We have a GM meeting coming up in March and I'd like our group to focus on it."
While Burke isn't a fan of the no-touch icing, he said he could see supporting a change to the hybrid rule.
"We need to keep the chase in, that's the one thing," he explained. "We can't go to automatic icing. That's a dreadful rule, it looks terrible. Our fans want the race, we need to keep the race in, and make it safe. We've asked the league to step up protection of the defencemen, it may not be enough. It may be time to look at hybrid icing. I know Kurtis Foster has strong feelings on it; obviously he was a victim on one of these hits. I think we have to look at it."
While there is no guarantee the topic will make it to the agenda of the GM's meeting in March, Foster will continue to speak out on the issue in hopes that the NHL will listen.
"It's something that I think needs to be changed but that's why I'm trying to voice my opinion and we go from there," he said.
- With files from TSN's Ryan Rishaug