Long before the NHL knew the likes of Bryan Berard, Manny Malhotra and Chris Pronger, there was Hector Marini. He’s far from a household name, but if you’re of a certain age, you may know that Marini’s career came to an end in 1985 when he took a puck to the eye. The blow destroyed the eye’s iris, cornea, and lens, and almost completely severed the retina. As a result, his right eye was removed two days later and replaced with artificial one. Marini, who represented the New Jersey Devils in the 1983 All-Star game, helped kick-start the discussion on whether helmets, let alone visors, should be mandatory.
Thirty years later every player is required to wear head gear. The idea a player would even think about competing in the NHL without a bucket is completely ridiculous. Yet, for some reason, the NHL and the NHLPA continue to drag their heels on making visors mandatory, even though pucks are flying through the air at unprecedented speed.
The latest cautionary visor tale occurred Tuesday in New York when Marc Staal of the Rangers took a puck to the eye area off a deflected point shot. It was a horrific scene at MSG as Staal was ushered off the ice with blood pouring down his face. It wasn’t for the faint of heart.
Early indications are that Staal’s injury isn’t career threatening, thank goodness. Still, it’s understandable to be concerned about the defenceman’s future, given he suffered a concussion in 2011 when he was hit by his older brother Eric. Chris Pronger, who suffered several concussions in his career, hasn’t played since taking two blows to the head last season, one of which was a high stick to the eye – something you wouldn’t necessarily associate with concussions.
So, why would a player choose not to wear a visor? The reasoning always comes down to comfort and vision. Well guys, let me tell you what is uncomfortable and impacts your vision: losing an eye and not being able to see! For some reason, the most skilled players in the world are perfectly able to ply their trade with a visor. The use of the face shield hasn’t hindered Sidney Crosby, Steve Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin or the Sedins. In fact, you could argue it provides them an extra layer of protection that empowers them to make plays they might otherwise be afraid to try. As well, many penalty killers are emboldened to step in front of a point shot because they are reasonably sure it won’t result in having their eyeball surgically removed.
The NHL is the pinnacle of professional hockey, yet it baffles me that the NHLers are the least protected of any players in the world. In addition to visors, all players should have to wear mouth guards, neck protectors and ear protection. But let’s start with eliminating the risk of vision loss by making visors a requirement for all NHL players.
In a perfect world, all players would immediately be mandated to wear facial protection. But, with the world being far from perfect, I’d settle for making them mandatory for all new players, who’ve never played a game without a visor or cage. The players are highly paid for what they do and they’re assets in the eyes of owners.
Well, the time to protect those assets is long overdue.