Ugly incidents like the one last night involving Flyers’ captain Chris Pronger spark an often asked question around the National Hockey League.
Should the league make it mandatory for players to wear visors?
Many young players don’t think twice about it; most of them wear visors. Of course, they are certainly influenced by the mandatory visor rules put in place by both official minor league affiliates of the NHL; the American Hockey League (AHL) and the ECHL.
The ECHL was the first league to require protective visors all the way back at the beginning of the 2003-04 season. The AHL followed suit and adopted the visor rule in the 2006-07 season, putting a rule in place that “all skaters, regardless of age or experience, will be required to wear approved visors.”
We’re now at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, five years after their minor-league system finalized its own rule, and there is no rule in place in the NHL forcing players to wear protective visors to minimize eye and head injuries.
It’s time for the NHL to step up and make the change.
Just here in Philadelphia, we’ve seen enough evidence in the past few seasons for the Flyers organization to pressure the league offices into implementing a rule, or at least for the club to decide on its own.
On April 22, 2010, Ian Lapierrere was hit right above his eye with a puck while blocking a shot against the New Jersey Devils. The gash to Lapierrere’s eyebrow required 60-70 stiches, and he also suffered a mild concussion. He vowed to never play another game without a visor, but never got that chance, as the injuries ultimately have led to him missing the past two seasons and sticking with the Flyers as a mentor and unofficial coach.
Warning: graphic video
Lapierrere is now a fan favorite in Flyers’ country, but the scare that he, his family, and Flyers fans had that April will never be forgotten.
This scary and bloody incident from a few seasons ago weren’t enough, however, to push the NHL over the edge on the mandatory visor issue.
Maybe this recent scare for the Flyers franchise, and the entire league, will.
With Chris Pronger out for at least the next two weeks, and bed ridden for the next three days, we have witnessed another instance of a player with a serious injury resulting from not wearing a shield. I get it; the veteran defensemen and tough guys have played most, if not all, of their career without a visor. However, for safety concerns, Chris Pronger will play with a visor when he returns, and so should every other player.
Former Flyer, and current Flyers’ radio analyst Chris Therien joined the Philadelphia sports station 94 WIP today to talk about the issue. Therien didn’t wear a visor when he played defense for the Flyers and Dallas Stars, but was forced to wear a visor by then General Manager Bob Clarke one training camp. Therien said that the visor would “always fog up” and need to be cleaned by towel, and that he just couldn’t get used to it so he scrapped it after a short time.
He also said that he has completely switched positions on the visor, and that the NHL should immediately make it mandatory for players to wear them.
Therien points out that advances in equipment, particularly how they make visors today, would have eliminated the problems he had with the visor back when he played. He also said that the padding in the front of the helmet absorbs more sweat now, and that the two combined differences would make switching to a visor much easier in today’s NHL.
There are several weak counterpoints to be made, but Therien has all but dismantled the “vision” point, as it seems fog and sweat issues have been resolved in the past few years. A point that I refuse to see as legitimate is the question “in a league that allows vicious fights, how can it mandate something like visors?”
Yes, fights can be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than catching a stick or puck to the eye during a game. However, just because one exists doesn’t mean the other has to. The NHL making visors mandatory would decrease eye and face injuries by a large amount, and that’s obvious. Also, fighting in hockey is almost always an accepted brawl between two players. Taking a stick or puck to the face isn’t ever by choice.
Another point is that players like Jody Shelley who often fight in games would be punching a hard piece of plastic instead of a regular fight. This is yet another simple problem: make an official rule that helmets must be removed before a fight.
Other professional leagues, especially the National Football League, have taken major strides in implementing rules regarding the safety of players. It’s time for the NHL to do the same.
You can find Buzz on Broad Flyers beat writer C.J. Burns on Twitter at @CJBurns215
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