WASHINGTON – Let’s debunk one old myth right off the bat. Most of the Washington Capitals players have all their teeth.
However, hockey players still live up to the myth that they’re really tough guys. They’re a different breed. And with the start of the NHL playoffs this week, they’re proving again just how tough they are.
They play through pain that would stop most of us cold.
Yes, they wear helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin pads and padded pants and gloves. But all, or some, of their face is exposed.
And wouldn’t you know it on many occasions, a puck or stick will find its way to a player’s head, usually causing an injury.
For the Capitals, that’s when team dentist Tom Lenz jumps into action.
He’s had to patch up some gruesome injuries during his seven years on the job.
“I’ve seen lips lacerated literally in half, injuries through the mouth, out the cheek, certainly lost teeth, fractured jaws. And these guys will continue playing,” Lenz says.
Capitals center Eric Belanger lost a bunch of teeth in a game in the 2010 playoffs after having extensive mouth surgery just months earlier.
He didn’t miss a beat.
The main objective for Dr. Lenz is to patch the players up and get them back on the ice as quickly as possible.
Lenz admires their pain threshold.
“They’re at the far end of the spectrum as far as tolerance,” he says.
Case in point: Former Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn played with a fractured jaw in the playoffs three years ago.
“A lot of times, players won’t let anyone know what’s going on,” Lenz says.
Morrisonn’s jaw was wired shut, but would take the wires off before the game so he could play. He was wearing no facial protection, not wanting to advertise his condition.
“He’d eat his meal on the plane afterwards and we’d force his jaw shut again and wire him up,” Lenz says.
He adds the players just want to keep playing and contributing, despite the pain.
Think about that when watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy chair.