A rash of eye injuries cries out for a decision to make visors mandatory
During the Panthers-Capitals game on Nov. 22, a slap shot struck Florida defenseman Branislav Mezei in the face, causing a fractured orbital bone and a buildup of blood behind his left eye. More than two weeks later Mezei, who wasn't wearing a protective face shield, still cannot see out of that eye. "If he had had a visor, nothing would have happened," says Panthers captain Olli Jokinen. "I'm considering starting to use one."
He shouldn't have a choice. With pucks flying faster than ever, it's time that the plexiglass shields, which are required in junior and college hockey and in most European pro leagues, became mandatory in the NHL. Visors are worn by about 35% of the league's players, and the list of skaters felled by preventable facial and eye injuries is growing. Stars defenseman Philippe Boucher suffered a shattered left orbital bone when he was hit by a puck two weeks ago, and Blues captain Al MacInnis had surgery to repair a torn retina caused when he was hit in the left eye with a stick in 2001. (Neither player wore a visor at the time.)
In spite of those injuries a majority of players oppose a visor mandate. Says Canucks forward Trevor Linden, who is the NHLPA president, "When it comes to equipment we want players to have a choice."
Some players find visors uncomfortable, while others grumble that they hamper their vision. There's also lingering sentiment that having a visor doesn't conform to the sport's macho code but, says Flyers G.M. Bobby Clarke, "it's foolish for players to wear them their entire lives and then take them off when they get to the NHL."
A rule that requires rookies to wear shields and grandfathers visorless veterans—similar to the one that introduced mandatory helmets in 1979—would preserve that right and gradually increase player safety. The league and union leadership should push for such a decree. If players can't see the wisdom of shields, their eyes should be opened for them.
Another Safety Issue
No-Touch Icing Is the Way to Go
Besides making visors mandatory, there's another rule that should be implemented by the NHL in the interest of player safety: the no-touch icing policy, which is already used in college and international play. Few situations on the ice are more dangerous than the drag races between skaters vying for the puck on a potential icing call.
Last month Oilers center Marty Reasoner suffered a fractured left ankle and torn cartilage in his right knee when he crashed into the end boards after he and Toronto defenseman Bryan Marchment got tangled while sprinting down the ice. The vast majority of icing touches are dull formalities, and the occasional dramatic dash isn't worth the risk.