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Sports hernias impacting NHL players of all ages, including potential No. 1 pick Nolan Patrick

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Months removed from sports hernia and hip surgeries, Claude Giroux still didn’t feel like himself.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ captain finally got back to normal by the end of the season, roughly nine months after going under the knife.

“I thought it’d be quicker, to be honest,” Giroux said. “It’s harder than I thought it would’ve been.”

Because of the unnatural motion of skating, hockey is among the most common sports for sports hernias, a catch-all term for what are also called core muscle injuries. Within the past couple of years, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild, Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals, Shayne Gostisbehere of the Flyers and goaltender Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes are among the NHL players to have an operation to repair a sports hernia or core muscle injury.

Dr. L. Michael Brunt, who has been a St. Louis Blues team physician since 1994, estimates that anywhere from six to 15 players each year undergo some type of sports hernia surgery – and it’s on the rise across all ages. Brunt, who has performed the surgery on Joel Ward, Mike Green, Matt Cooke, Doug Weight and others, believes the increase over the past 10 to 15 years has to do with better recognition of abdominal and groin injuries that are common in hockey, soccer and football players.

He also believes that too much repetition among young athletes in a single sport can cause problems, something others have blamed for more Tommy John surgeries among younger and younger pitchers.

“It’s because of the sudden propulsive movements: turning, cutting, etc., that occur at high rates of speed,” Brunt said. “Young athletes are committed to one sport very, very early on, and so there are these repetitive movements that occur because they’re not doing three or four sports year-round and mixing up their physical sports activity. They concentrate on one sport, and it’s that gradual wear and tear over the years that tends to predispose them to developing something like this.”

The recovery from surgery varies drastically from player to player, too. Nolan Patrick, who’s expected to be a top pick in the NHL draft next week, had surgery on his right side last summer, came back too soon and missed three months of his season.

Read more:

Potential No. 1 overall pick Nolan Patrick to miss world juniors

Nolan Patrick, potential top pick, dealt with two hernias

“Everybody’s different so it’s hard to put a blanket on it,” said veteran Dallas defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who played a full 82 games and had one of the best seasons of his career after summer sports hernia surgery in 2011. “There’s lots of variables: different surgeons doing it, different levels of tears. Some guys it’s just a simple hernia and mesh insertion. Other guys have (adductor muscles that) could be torn and then it’s a whole thing. … I think rehab was a huge part of it, and of course everybody has different rehab programs.”

Dr. William Brown , a California-based sports hernia specialist, said many different muscles, nerves and tendons can be injured – and inexperienced surgeons can miss other injuries in the area.

“Some of the athletes respond poorly because not everything’s fixed appropriately at the time of surgery,” Brown said. “If (other injuries) are missed, then that could be another one of those reasons why the athlete doesn’t heal quickly after the operation’s over.”

That’s one explanation for Patrick being limited to 33 games for the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings during his draft year. The 18-year-old center said he should have had two surgeries but isn’t dwelling on the situation as he looks forward to the draft.

“There’s a ton of guys that have these injuries these days and everyone bounces back from it,” said Patrick, who took two full months off skating from October to December before returning in January. “It happens to a lot of hockey players and mostly comes from over-usage. … It’s a tough bounce, but you know it’s the way it goes sometimes.”

When he came back, Patrick put up 16 goals and 42 assists in 28 games before a leg injury ended his season. Former NHL executive Craig Button, now a draft analyst for Canadian sports network TSN, said Patrick was more careful when he came back the second time and looked like an elite prospect again.

“Initially there was a little bit of a working-in process,” Button said. “But after he got right up to speed, I thought he was right back to where he was at.”

Patrick’s injury history is a question for the New Jersey Devils, who have the top pick, and it led the Flyers, who draft second, to bring him in to see their doctors after the scouting combine.

“I’ve had to take care of my hips and groins for my whole career, so I’ve learned how to manage that properly,” Hamhuis said. “To stay around in this league, you’ve got to stay healthy and allow your body to be in a good position.”

 

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.

The Buzzer: Cirelli, Lightning cruise past Jets; Crosby tallies OT winner

Anthony Cirelli #71 of the Tampa Bay Lightning
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Three Stars

1) Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning

Cirelli recorded his first NHL hat trick as the Lightning steamrolled the Winnipeg Jets Friday evening. The 22-year-old scored twice in the opening period as the Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back. Cirelli hammered a feed from Ondrej Palat 9:27 into the game and then converted a nifty forehand-backhand maneuver to close out the first 20 minutes. Cirelli would complete the hat trick midway through the third period.

2) Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin recorded two power-play assists to set up Pittsburgh’s two goals in its 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. Sidney Crosby has received a lot of attention since returning from a 28-game absence earlier this week and added the game-winning goal Friday. However, it was Malkin who looked off the defender and delivered a perfect pass to set up the Penguins captain. Malkin has recorded 10 points in the previous six games.

3) Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

The 26-year-old winger scored twice in Tampa Bay’s 7-1 win. Cirelli and Kucherov alternated goals as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 4-0 lead, including three in the opening period. Kucherov buried two tap-in opportunities to record goals 21 and 22 on the season. The Russian winger has five goals in his previous three games and the Lightning improved to 12-2-0 in the previous 14 games.

Highlights of the Night

Crosby extended his goal-scoring streak to three games when he buried a pretty feed from Malkin to propel the Penguins in overtime.

Sam Steel fired the OT winner after Andrei Svechnikov‘s costly turnover.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Detroit Red Wings 1 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 7, Winnipeg Jets 1

NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
• All-Star Game rosters
• Rosters for Elite Women’s 3-on-3 Revealed
• Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
• Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game
• NHL Skills Competition to feature women’s 3-on-3, pucks shot from stands

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Predators’ Arvidsson fined $2,000 under NHL diving policy

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NEW YORK (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson has been fined $2,000 by the NHL under the league’s rules regarding diving and embellishment.

NHL Rule 64 was designed to penalize players who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. A player gets a warning for a first citation and a $2,000 fine for the second citation.

League officials said Arvidsson received a warning following an incident Dec. 27 against Pittsburgh. His second citation occurred during an incident in the first period of a Jan. 7 game with Boston that resulted in coincidental minor penalties on Arvidsson and Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

Fine proceeds go to the players’ emergency assistance fund.