Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Because Seeing Is Cool

There was a rather scary and unfortunate event that happened in the NHL tonight, but it's something that could be entirely avoided if players would simply take their own safety seriously. If Teemu Selanne, Alexander Ovechkin, and Sidney Crosby can wear a visor, so can everyone else. Instead, we lose players to significant eye injuries just like we did tonight in the game between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. I will preface the rest of this article by saying this: if seeing is important, visors should be mandatory.

Marc Staal is an effective, hard-nosed defenceman for the New York Rangers. There's no doubt that head coach John Tortorella relies on Staal as one of his shutdown defenceman, and he logs major minutes on the special teams as well. Tonight ended very poorly for Staal as the following video shows.
Kimmo Timonen's point shot was deflected by Jakub Voracek as the Flyers were pressing for the tying goal in the third period. The deflection, however, caught Marc Staal in the eye as he crumpled to the ice in extreme pain.

I have been in the same boat as Marc Staal, and I cringed when I saw the video. When I was younger, I played a lot of shinny when we weren't on the ice for organized hockey. On Christmas eve, we were playing shinny at the local rink where I attempted to poke-check a player who was clearing the puck from his zone via a slapshot. The poke-check was nearly perfect if it hadn't been for the puck rolling up my stick, deflecting off my thumb, and hitting me just below the left eye. I was rushed to the hospital with a gaping wound - friends later told me they could see my cheekbone - and some very bloody clothes. All I remember is being in extreme pain and seeing stars.

After receiving seven stitches to close my cheek up, the doctor delivered some sobering news. The edge of the puck had cut through the cheek and the muscle below it, exposing the cheekbone below it. The doctor who was stitching me up calmly told me that had the puck been one inch higher, I would have most likely been blind in my left eye, and possibly could have lost the eye. News like that, especially when one is invincible as a teenager, is kind of scary. It changed my view on wearing a cage or visor permanently. And it made Christmas photos that year worth a thousand words, most of them curse words from my mom who made it clear that I would wear a cage anytime I was on the ice.

The thing I don't understand is that the vast majority of players coming into the NHL nowadays have worn cages and visors throughout junior hockey and the AHL. Visors are mandatory in the AHL and in the Canadian Hockey League, so why are they not mandatory in the NHL? It's not like visors can't be grandfathered in like helmets were in the past, so why is the NHL not making visors mandatory when they see images of players like Marc Staal writhing in pain on the ice?

As for Marc Staal, it's not like he didn't play junior hockey. Staal was a star with the Sudbury Wolves, so he definitely wore a visor in the OHL. He also wore one while playing at the World Junior Championships. Marc Staal has worn visors in the past, and he chose to NOT wear a visor in the NHL. Anyone else see an issue here?

Why is it that NHL players wait until they have suffered a scary and potential career-threatening injury for them to change? It's not like Staal is the first player to suffer an eye injury, and he certainly will not be the last as long as wearing a visor is up to the players. Players will always opt for less armor and/or obstructions in order to give them an edge. Here's a thought: if everyone is wearing a visor, no one can complain about obstructed views because everyone has one. At that point, it becomes the manufacturers' problem as they have to design a better mousetrap.

I really hope for Marc Staal's sake that the puck caught his face and he didn't get hit directly in the eye. We've seen some gruesome eye injuries in the past, and there's no need for any others to happen. If the players won't protect themselves, it might be time for someone to step in and do it for them.

We certainly need no more images like this. Wearing a visor doesn't make one any less tough or hard-nosed. It just makes one safer. While visors won't prevent all facial and eye injuries, reducing the number of injuries is better than the status quo. If you don't believe me on this, maybe you should ask Bryan Berard about his thoughts on visors after his career was derailed by a major eye injury.

It may not look cool, but visors save eyes. Seeing, in this case, is believing.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Peter K. said...

It's always a reminder of Clint Malarchuk and other "freak" accidents...it's such a rare occasion that an unfortunate event like this happens that there is knee-jerk reactions all around. What came out of the Malarchuk was a piece of equipment that (we may or may not know...I tend to side with yes it has) has saved lives. As any sport evolves, so should the equipment, but not to the point of coddling.

Wearing a visor should still remain a choice, as I would much prefer a visor over a face-mask.
There is inherit risk with ANY sport that is played...that siad, I do not feel that anytime a freak injury neccesitates an immediate reaction (an example would liking a baseball player being hit in the face and MANDATING all wear face masks/gaurds, instead of leaving it to the individual)...if that WERE the case, I say we stop running in basketball, because someone could trip over his feet (oops, sorry Carmelo)...

Teebz, once again, you present a fair point with room to spare...(Canadians...always looking for the best ;)

Teebz said...

As good as argument you make for a player's choice, Peter, you don't see players skating without helmets nor do you hear complaints about wearing them. Visors are mandatory in every level of hockey except the NHL. Nearly 70% of players are wearing them. If almost everyone is wearing one by choice, it's time to remove the choice NOT to wear one.

mtjaws said...

I wonder what percent of new players (from the minors/colleges/intl) stop wearing visors once they join the NHL. I'm sure it is small, but I can see some not wanting to wear them. But I think they should be mandatory for all new guys, and veterans will probably join in eventually. The puck is too rough to not protect yourself and career.