To quote Jeremy Roenick, “NHL wake up.”
As backwards as the National Hockey League is by still allowing fighting, the allowance of giving players the option to choose the wearing of a visor might very well be its most absurd flaw.
In last night’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Flyers captain Chris Pronger was struck in the eye area by the stick of Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski. Team trainers hurried to his aid and rushed the big Flyers defenseman off the ice showing the severity of the situation. Reports coming out of Philadelphia are saying that Pronger will be back on the ice in ten days, but a scary incident like this once again raises the question as to why players in the NHL do not see the need to protect their faces; particularly their eyes.
Of all the professional sports, one may argue that hockey is the one game where you would want to wear full facial protection the most. What with guys racing around the ice at top speed while carrying a stick that often is under very little control by the person carrying it and all. Or about the fact that the players shoot a cold, hard disk made of vulcanized rubber. And forget about how the puck can be sent in flight at 100 miles per hour!; a mere flip of the thing is enough to cause some damage. But once again the addage of “old time hockey” continues to take precedence over any logic or even plain common sense that is painfully apparent in this instance. Much like is the case with hockey’s refusal to remove fighting from the game simply because it has always gone on, not making face protection mandatory is another example of those directly involved in the game refusing to adapt to evolution within the sport.
In your father’s and grandfather’s NHL players did not skate as fast, were not as big or strong, and used sticks made of wood (seriously, wood!) Of course those wooden sticks could also do some damage when met with flesh, but the game back then was simply more controlled and anything but the furious mayhem we see today.
To the observing fan, not wanting to protect your face in a sport that is so fast and presents so much danger is almost ludicrous. To the player, going against better judgement and leaving the face unprotected may come at a cost, but the ability to have clear vision with no obstruction is worth it.
When presented the question as to why they choose not to at the very least wear a visor, player A’s answer is certain to be that it all has to do with his vision on the ice, but most of us know the real reason. It all stems to the idea that a player who wears a visor, or even worse a full cage, is a chicken who is afraid to play the game “the way it was meant to be played.” A true hockey player does not worry about the possibility of a potential life-altering injury that could occur from losing one’s eyesight, because a true hockey player is a warrior who fears not the loss of some teeth or a pesky eye injury.
Spare me. I for one am tired of seeing guys, star player or not, being helped off the ice while blood frighteningly pours from their mouths or eyes and the sickening feeling of wondering just how bad it is that ensues. How times as this happened? So many that to go back and think of a few would be time consuming and unnecessary because we have all seen it so many times.
While players are choosing to wear a visor now more than ever, a piece of plastic covering only half the face is obviously not enough, but it is a start. A move to making visors mandatory would be something the NHL would absolutely hate to do, but it is clear that it needs to be done. There will be some players that won’t like it and a group that would cause an uproar, but it would pass and the NHL will have taken its first step in making a change for the better. Change in hockey? Imagine that
Resident of Windsor, Ontario. Extensive knowledge of both the NHL and junior hockey in Canada, particularly the OHL. Writer for THW covering the Winnipeg Jets and the OHL as well as covering Phoenix Coyotes prospects for Hockey’s Future.