Jason Demers became a convert the hard way. In late November, a skate blade sliced into his wrist during a scramble in front of the San Jose Sharks' net during a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Twelve stitches were required to close the laceration and it was another two weeks before he was back in the lineup, but it could have been much worse. Now the 22-year-old defenseman is one of a handful of Sharks wearing cut-resistant sleeves or socks designed to protect vulnerable areas from one of the most harrowing hazards of the game they play.
"It kind of gave me a little scare with the wrist, so I thought I'd cover it up a bit," Demers said.
He is also convinced that the protective sleeves -- featuring a Kevlar-like material -- already have saved him from a second injury.
"I had them on when I got hit with a skate against Anaheim, the same spot. It came down just like that," said Demers, chopping with the edge of his hand across the recent scar on his right wrist. "But it didn't cut. I just got bruised, so I was pretty lucky."
The Sharks and other NHL teams make the socks and sleeves available to all players, but there is no requirement that they be worn.
Blade cuts are not uncommon in hockey. The NHL said there has not been a rise in their numbers, but because skate blades have caused some of the league's most gruesome injuries, those cuts are often in the spotlight. Buffalo goalie Clint Malarchuk required 300 stitches after his jugular vein was sliced open in 1989; two years ago, Florida defenseman Richard Zednik lost five pints of blood when his neck was slashed two years ago; earlier this season, Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf missed 16 games when a blade severed his Achilles tendon.
While no Shark ever has been slashed that severely, the inquiry into cut-resistant options became more urgent in early February when prospect goaltender Alex Stalock had a nerve severed in his left leg while playing for the franchise's development team in Worcester.
Even so, players have been slow to take advantage of the new equipment. Part of that, said Sharks equipment manager Mike Aldrich, is a comfort issue and part of that is because athletes are creatures of habits.
And part of the reluctance involves the mindset of athletes who have learned to sublimate their fears when it comes to the dangers of the game they play.
"Hockey players are idiots," said Cornell-educated Douglas Murray, who doesn't wear the protective material. "You have to get hurt first so you know the value of it. That's what we do.
"I didn't put a visor on until I took a puck in the eye and scratched my cornea," the defenseman continued. "You don't think you need stuff, and then you add on as you hurt yourself. It's plain stupid."
But sometimes not even a serious injury is enough to get a player to use the protective sleeves or socks that slide under existing layers of gear.
Veteran center Mike Modano missed 41 games this season after tendons in his right arm were severed Nov. 28 in a freak accident along the boards. Modano returned to action with the Detroit Red Wings two weeks ago and still isn't wearing any of the new equipment.
"It was just a freak thing that the heel of that skate pushed the cuff of my glove down," he said. "As far as wearing anything extra, what are the odds of that happening again?"
No one in the Detroit organization pressured him to add the protective equipment, added Modano, who included himself among players set in their habits.
"You just get used to things, and you're comfortable, and it's tough to change," he said.
A variety of equipment makers recognize the potential market for protective gear and are developing new materials. The Sharks, for example, are working closely with product developer Kozo Shimano of the Southern California family known for its cycling and fishing equipment.
"We've taken skate blades, carpet knives. What we've found," Aldrich said, holding a skate in hand as he spoke, "is when you take this flat and rub it on there, it's not cutting. Now you get this point, which is going to grab some of that material and pull it apart. It'll cut you, but it won't cut you severely."
Still, for most players, comfort trumps the extra protection.
Patrick Marleau tried the cut-resistant socks for a couple practices, then decided against using them. But he was open to giving them another try during the offseason.
"I don't know what it was, it just felt a little different," he said. "It is something I'll have to get used to in the summer probably."
Devin Setoguchi, on the other hand, had no problem adjusting to cut-resistant socks that feature fluorescent orange or green toe areas. And he didn't need an actual injury to make the move -- just a near-miss after he started wearing the tongues out of his skates, not held close to his upper foot and ankle by the laces
"I came back to the bench and felt a skate hit the top of my tongue," Setoguchi said. "I had a big cut on the top of my skate and if it would have been on the front of my foot it would have been pretty bad."
To this point, neither the NHL nor its players association have gotten deeply involved in the issue of cut-resistant gear, leaving teams to sort through the various equipment now in the marketplace.
While Aldrich wants to provide players with as much information as possible on the cut-resistant gear, he doesn't think it's his job to push the new equipment on players.
"The last thing we want to do is try and sell anything to the players," he said. "We're identifying a problem leaguewide and we're trying to research it."