By Liz from Chicks Who Dig Hockey
When I first started to follow hockey I asked why some players wore visors and some didn’t. I was given a range of answers: “No visor shows you’re available to fight”, “It impairs your vision” “Helmets don’t fit right with visors on” “Just the younger guys wear visors” and on. Most players don’t have a problem at all with visors. All children who start playing hockey must wear a full face cage or shield. Those who play major junior hockey are allowed to move to the half shield/visor. Women’s hockey offers no option of player preference and every woman who has competed in the game has done so wearing full face protection.
The real issues come to life when discussing whether or not wearing visors should be made mandatory in the NHL. There was a time when playing without a visor was a sign that you had arrived in a tough sport kind of like being old enough to not have a curfew. A lack of visor represents freedom, independence and both mental and physical fortitude. However, players who wear visors are hesitant to think about casting a vote that would lead to visors being made mandatory because they don’t want to take the choice out of the equation. The visor represents so much more than preference or eye protection, it represents paying one’s dues, going through the system, evolution and arrival.
Recent life changing injuries have had the NHL, NHLPA and fans taking a different view of the choice to forgo the visor. In 2011 when Vancouver Canucks forward Manny Malhotra suffered an eye injury in a game it was feared he’d lose his eye. He tried to return earlier this season but the Canucks stopped it out of fear that his reduced vision was putting him in danger. Recently, New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was hit in the eye by a slapshot from Kimmo Timonen that was redirected off of a stick. It was a sickening hit to the right eye. Full details of his injury have never been detailed. Neither player was wearing a visor.
Chris Pronger suffered an eye injury on an accidental high stick from Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski last season. He has been devastated by the damage to his eye as well as the effects of Post-Concussion Syndrome. He finally granted interviews earlier this month.
“So what happened is that I had 30-year-old eyes and I got hit, and then the doctor said I have 60-year-old eyes,” Pronger told Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy during an interview recently. “I don’t have very good peripheral vision, that so-called sixth sense people have. I used to have a really good one, and now I couldn’t feel anybody come around a corner. I run into my kids, my kids scare me all the time.
“That used to be kind of what I was known for, for having a feel for everybody that was around me, and now I don’t have that.”
Pronger wasn’t wearing a visor and likely won’t play in the NHL again.
Other players say that players who don’t wear visors know exactly what they’re risking when they’re not wearing them and that right to choose shouldn’t be taken away from them in a sport where toughness has always been highly valued. Darren Pang @Panger40 tweeted earlier this week:
“And when the players decide they want to ( or not) wear a visor, it’s up to them. Not the media. They are the ones that play the game. #NHL”
Allan Walsh @walsha, NHL sports agent also tweeted about visors:
“I strongly urge ALL players to wear visors but against them being mandatory. Players understand risk, matter of personal choice.”
Approximately 73 per cent of players now wear a shield. NHLPA is planning to conduct a vote ahead of the competition committee meeting in June on whether to Grandfather the mandatory use of visors. Remember, there was a time when helmets weren’t mandatory. Helmets were made mandatory in 1979, but players who were playing in the NHL before the rule was made had the choice to continue not wearing a helmet if they chose to do so. Every player who has come into the league since 1979 has not had a choice. Helmets are mandatory. Grandfathering takes the choice out of players hands and allows the tough guys to say, “I had no choice, I was forced.”
The Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan announced that they would be wearing visors.