How the NHL brought the mumps to a timely stop

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How the NHL brought the mumps to a timely stop
How the NHL brought the mumps to a timely stop

ANAHEIM – There was a time earlier in the season when Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri woke up in the morning and immediately felt his jaw for swelling. It wasn’t because he anxious about bumps or bruises from the hockey season. He was worried he had the mumps, an illness that afflicted certain corners of the NHL – especially the Ducks – for the first half of the season.

“On a normal day if you start feeling a little sluggish you don’t think anything of it. But while it was going around, you overthought everything that was going on in your body and it takes a toll,” Palmieri said. “Your body needs to rest, and especially with how long the season is, if we were constantly worrying about that and staying healthy and staying on top of it, it’s stressful.”

According to the NHL, the last reported case of the mumps was Jan. 11, 2015. The league, along with the help of teams and their players helped snuff out the problem -- three entities that tend to have a contentious relationship. But what these different parts of NHL hockey didn’t unite on this issue? Think of this nightmare scenario: Before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Carey Price wakes up with swollen salivary glands and a fever. 

The mumps is not the flu. This is not some a player can just hide and play through. Mumps cases in the NHL led to player quarantines, and canceled hospital visits. The Beau Bennett situation in Pittsburgh showed how the mumps was indeed not your normal illness. Kids without age appropriate vaccinations who Bennett visited at a local hospital before his official diagnosis had to be quarantined afterwards according to ESPN.com.

It was bad, and players knew it. 

“It was pretty scary,” Ducks tough guy Tim Jackman said. “One day you see a guy walk in and his face is all swollen and he’s not feeling good and you don’t want that to happen to you and guys have wives and kids and stuff and you don’t want to be bringing that stuff around them. It was a scary incident or outbreak to be even part of. I’m glad it’s over.” 

At the NHL level, Ducks forward Corey Perry and defensemen Clayton Stoner and Francois Beauchemin each were diagnosed with the mumps. Emerson Etem seemed to transport it from Anaheim to the AHL level in Norfolk. 

At its peak, it seemed like the problem had no end in sight as new players on different teams appeared to be diagnosed on an almost weekly basis. The St. Louis Blues had issues with what was supposedly a bacterial infection, but was never officially called the mumps.

Anaheim stopped the problem from progressing through vaccinations, vigilance, relaying the proper public information and quick reaction from its training staff to stem the issue.

The group used separate and clean water bottles. Players in Anaheim took it upon themselves to make sure they stayed hygienic, even if it meant avoiding contact in a sport that necessitates physical activity.

“It comes down to even the most basic stuff like washing your hands and touching other guys’ equipment, putting your hand in their gloves. Stuff like that is stuff we needed to avoid with how close we are,” Palmieri said. “Every day we’re here four-to-five hours with each other and you go on the road and you go on an airplane together and you’re even tighter.”

Hockey players are a superstitious bunch. So much that mid-interview, Palmieri knocked on the wooden equipment panel when talking about whether the problem is done. 

But as Jackman pointed out, let’s say the mumps doomsday scenario occurred in the postseason. It wouldn’t be much different than say, a key player getting an injury before an important game. For example, Colorado’s Peter Forsberg suffered a ruptured spleen in 2001, missed the final two rounds of the playoffs, and the Avalanche still beat the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final that year.

“You can have any injury or anything can happen. Guys don’t really think about that too much,” Jackman said. “I think when it did happen it was so new into the season, it was the beginning of the year, the way the doctors were talking about it that they would be able to fix it before the playoffs so we had those cross our minds, and thankfully we’re not dealing with it anymore.”

But a ruptured spleen or an injury is not infectious. Imagine if this happened right before the Stanley Cup Final? The real doomsday scenario would have been the problem going through an entire team during the most important two weeks of the year. Which is why the Western Conference leading Ducks are even happier it’s over.

“It’s in the past, it’s done we overcame it and we hope nobody else gets it again on any team,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It was bad at the time. It’s not like a cold. It really weakens the system. But it’s all in the past.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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