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By: Eric Melter

Marc Staal, a 26-year-old Rangers defenseman, was struck in the eye by a puck flying around 75 miles per hour Tuesday night. Staal went down as if shot, hands covering his face as he squirmed on the ice and bled profusely. Although doctors said they expect Staal to make a full recovery, the horrific scene provides another argument for mandatory use of visors in the N.H.L. Still, the players union oppose the idea. Any rule change by the league needs union approval. Staal wore a visor as a juniors player in the Ontario Hockey League, but chose to take it off after joining the Rangers in 2008, which was obviously a big mistake.

“Although doctors said they expected Staal to make a full recovery, the horrific scene provided another argument for mandatory use of visors in the N.H.L. Still, the players union opposed the idea. Any rule change by the league needs union approval.” (www.nytimes.com) The N.H.L. is the only significant hockey league that does not require visor use, but a majority of players are wearing them to protect their eyes, nose and cheekbones. “According to the union, about 73 percent of players wear visors, an increase from 69 percent last season. In 2008-9 the number was 56 percent, and in 2003-4 it was 34 percent.” (nytimes.com) The league continues to support a rule that would make visors mandatory in N.H.L. games. “It has been the consistent position of the players association that they are opposed to mandating visor use, that it should be a matter of ‘player choice.” (espn.go.com)

The American Hockey League made protective visors mandatory in 2006 after Portland Pirates defenseman Jordan Smith lost vision in his eye after an incident similar to Staal’s, but a corresponding rule change in the NHL has yet to follow. Since 2000, the list includes Toronto’s Bryan Berard, who had seven eye operations while trying to come back from being struck by a stray stick; St. Louis’s Al MacInnis, who retired after sustaining a detached retina in the same eye that was struck by a stick two years earlier; Detroit’s Steve Yzerman, who sustained a fractured cheekbone and a scratched cornea when struck by a puck; Toronto’s Mats Sundin, struck in the left eye by a puck that fractured his orbital bone; Washington’s Tom Poti, who needed four plates to secure his shattered cheekbone and orbital bone after taking a shot to the face, and a few more that all could have been stopped with the use of a visor.

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