Hockey Helmets and Cowboys, the chin strap debate begins

A Guest Post by J Scott Moore of Real Denver Sports

I was mulling over the NHL and Versus recently and the diverse programming on the network got me to thinking. Yes, Versus does hockey, but it also covers bull riding. Bull riding means cowboys. And it occurred to me how much cowboys and hockey players have in common. A common attitude, a way of conduct, a code of honor…and a certain comfort with the familiar. Tradition.

While cowboys aren’t hockey players, I say hockey players are cowboys.

The American Heritage Dictionary says cowboy is slang for “A reckless person.” And Merriam-Webster says: “one having qualities (as recklessness, aggressiveness, or independence) popularly associated with cowboys.”

Or hockey players.

Those qualities are, to a degree, what attracts many of us to the sport of hockey. We like our guys to play a little reckless and aggressive. When is the last time you went to a basketball game and yelled “C’mon! Hit someone!”

But there’s an element of that recklessness and independence that can no longer be embraced. The league has recently taken steps in the right direction to protect players’ heads but they seem to be missing one amazingly obvious and crucial aspect of this issue.

Helmets and chin straps.

(Stoli151/Flickr)

Yes, the NHL mandated helmets for players and years later for referees. But there is still that cowboy element to the sport. The most visible aspect of this cowboy mentality is the way a large population of the players wear their chin strap. It’s usually dangling well below their chin; it’s not the least bit tight. It’s time for this part of the cowboy to hit the trail. The way NHL players wear their helmets is a joke. They pop off in fights. They pop off before guys even hit the ice. What’s the point of that?

It’s time to change.

Helmets haven’t progressed sufficiently since they were mandated. We can put a chip in a puck and make it turn different colors, dependent on speed, but we can’t design a better helmet or a functional chip strap?

First of all, why aren’t hockey helmets designed with a chin strap similar to football helmets? With multiple anchor points on the helmet and a chin strap that actually cups the chin protection of the players head would surely be improved simply because the helmet would stay in place more often.

Even now, with the current straps, the league is missing a very simple opportunity to mandate and enforce the chin straps being cinched up.

This is where tradition and his half-brother, stubbornness comes in to play. Throw in a healthy dose of independence and a dash of superstition and we’re bound to get nowhere on this issue. I’m sure you can all picture your favorite player wearing a football style chin strap and thinking it would look odd, stupid even. But we’re talking safety here, and I’m sure in no time we would all get used to how it looks.

There’s always been resistance to change in our fine sport. The progress has been slow. A plead to current players: stop wearing these helmets like a cowboy hat. You’re not Clint Eastwood. Stop wearing your lids like you’re on a pony ride.

Don’t wait for a new rule. Cinch it up!

– Image Resource: Stoli151

Bruce Hollingdrake

Bruce Hollingdrake

Founder/Editor-in-Chief at The Hockey Writers
Serial entrepreneur who started building websites in 1995. Founded The Hockey Writers in Jan. of 2009. Off to see the world in 2016.
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9 Comments

  1. As a lad involved in ball sports & motorsports I have little patience for people who use their brains for brakes. For football I religiously wore the best I could afford. For motorcycling & racing I’ve always bought the best BELL helmet available.
    I ride a bicycle w a $400 BELL 3/4 coverage Magnum & have used a $700 BELL Star, Kevlar full coverage model.
    Hockey helmets from the 60’s w loose straps are a verification that players aren’t thinking. Our son at one point had $1,000 worth of helmets for snow boarding, motorcycling & horseback riding.
    Having taught the ON M2 Motorcycle Program I know in this province 40% of motorcycle fatalities are deemed not to be wearing a helmet as the strap wasn’t fastened & the corpse was found w o a helmet on. People need to be educated.

    My parents kindly spent over $100,000 US on my driver training and I know what can happen. It’s a sad comment on society when legislation is required to get some folk to wear seatbelts or not type a letter whilst driving. Ontario is now staged to pass a law banning texting whilst walking outdoors. Ridiculous that people need to be saved from themselves. I sometimes think we are better off not having them remain in the gene pool. Take care, protect the only head you’ve got!
    Sincerely ~ mark c & crew . . enroute to Le Mans!

  2. Pingback: Kris Letang’s Hit on Blake Comeau – Illegal Headshot? | The Hockey Writers

  3. Sandman, see my reply to the comment above.

  4. “First of all, why aren’t hockey helmets designed with a chin strap similar to football helmets?”

    The full-face helmets are similarly designed.

    http://www.google.com/images?q=nike+bauer+1500&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1280&bih=834

  5. While I agree with the sentiment, I believe you’re leaving a few things out. Most notably, hockey helmets come standard with chin-straps that anchor and cup the chin which are required through juniors and college. The problem is the NHL is free of all regulation by HECC such that once players sign a pro-contract by tradition they take off the face-mask they’ve worn their whole hockey playing life. Seems to be the easiest transition would to simply have players keep the cage.

    As to the football-style redesign, it actually seems vastly overreaching. Just look at all the resistance Cascade had to their first generation of helmets and lacrosse helmets are somewhat similar to those in football. Also that wouldn’t work with younger players who need an integrated chinstrap floating with the face-mask.

    The face-mask would also cut down on facial lacerations, eye injuries, infamous hockey player smiles, and would probably cut down fighting as what would be the point of hitting a guy with padding.

    So if loose chin-straps are idiotic so too are the naked faces.

    • “So if loose chin-straps are idiotic so too are the naked faces”
      I won’t argue that Burke. But one step at a time, and getting players to wear a cage is going to be a huge challenge. I think the helmet with an improved chinstrap that doen’t require the cage would be a nice option for guys that want it.

  6. A very well written article on a very important and timely topic!

  7. THANK YOU for a great article!!!

    I have been writing about the growing crisis of concussions in sport for almost three years now… The simple act of tightening the chin strap, or as you mentioned, a football-style re-design would go a long way to preventing some of the concussions in the NHL. While they may never be eliminated in a fast paced sport like hockey, anything that can be done, should be done.

    A term often used in sports is “just a concussion” and this does not ilustrate the long-term effects of the injury. Make no mistake – a concussion is a serious brain injury! Athletes, journalists, and sports fans all need to become aware of the truth about concussions.

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