TORONTO – It probably shouldn’t have taken a stick to the eye for Tim Brent to put on a visor. Had the Toronto Maple Leafs forward just listened to his mother, he would have been wearing one long before an accidental high stick from Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis gave him a scare earlier this month.
“My grandmother and mother were hounding me, the same as my girlfriend,” said Brent. “It seemed like all the women in my life were all over me about it. So they’re pretty happy that it’s on now.”
Brent counts himself lucky.
A career minor-leaguer, he scratched and clawed his way through more than 300 American Hockey League games—the majority with a visor, which have been mandatory in that league since 2006—before finally getting his first full shot in the NHL this season.
It could all have been taken away on March 12. Brent lost vision in his left eye for about 10 minutes after Ennis’s stick got up and caught him square in the eyeball, resulting in scratches and a bruised retina.
Amazingly, he was able to return to action right away and played his eighth straight game with a visor when Toronto beat the Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday night. It isn’t lost on him that Vancouver Canucks forward Manny Malhotra had his season ended just days later when he took a puck to the eye.
“That’s obviously something that happened shortly after I had a little bit of a scare there,” said Brent. “I feel very fortunate that it wasn’t anything too serious. It was something that scares you when it happens and you can’t see out of that eye for a certain period of time.
“What happened to Manny so shortly after really kind of put things in perspective, you don’t want to see that happen to anybody.”
Malhotra underwent his second eye surgery in New York on Tuesday and the Canucks called the procedure “successful.” However, it’s still not known what his prognosis is for the long term.
Roughly 60 per cent of NHL players wear a visor and the numbers continue to grow each year. The NHL Players’ Association has had an ongoing discussion with its membership about possibly making them mandatory for all rookies but the idea has yet to generate enough support.
The topic will be broached once again at the NHLPA’s player meetings over the summer.
Many around the game believe visors should be mandatory, including Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who has repeatedly shared that view with members of his team.
“I’ve said to him, `I have no idea why you don’t wear a shield,'” Wilson said of Brent. “There’s a perfect example of, if you’re wearing a shield, that stick probably doesn’t hit you in the face.”
The NHL is virtually the only league where players still have a choice about eye protection. At the recent Vancouver Olympics, veteran defenceman Chris Pronger was the only member of Team Canada not wearing a visor because international rules dictate all players born after Dec. 31, 1974 must have one.
That rule forced six other Canadian Olympians—Joe Thornton, Brenden Morrow, Eric Staal, Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook and Ryan Getzlaf—who don’t normally wear a shield to put one on for the tournament.
Thornton wore a visor all through junior hockey but took it off after he was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997.
“When I was a kid, I remember seeing guys without any helmets and without any visors, and I thought, ‘Hey, if I ever made it to the NHL, I’m not going to wear one,'” Thornton said during the Vancouver Games. “That’s the reason I don’t wear one.”
Over the years, players have told the NHLPA that they believe the choice should be left to the individual.
Brent’s case offers a pretty strong argument against that theory. The 27-year-old never really intended to take his visor off and certainly wouldn’t have complained if he wasn’t given the choice.
“I scuffed my visor at the start of the summer playing shinny and took it off because I couldn’t see through it,” Brent explained. “Then I got used to it and figured I don’t want to put one on for training camp, I want to be comfortable. And then training camp finishes and you make the team, you don’t want to put one on and have to go through the adjustment.”
Having a stick blade make contact with his eye forced animmediate change. And here’s the kicker.
“Really it hasn’t been that big of an issue as far as adjusting,” said Brent. “They make them so optically perfect now that even from my junior days the visors have come along so far they’re really great to look through. It hasn’t been an issue at all.”