EDMONTON – It took almost 800 NHL games and an incident that could have cost him the vision in his right eye to convince Edmonton Oilers captain Ethan Moreau to put the visor he took off 14 years ago back on.
Twelve days after suffering a scratched cornea and bleeding behind the eye when jabbed by a high stick from Antti Miettinen of the Minnesota Wild, Moreau returned to action in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Atlanta Thrashers at Rexall Place on Thursday.
While the injury forced Moreau to miss just four games, he knows it could have been much worse. The scare will see Moreau, a gap-toothed, battled-scarred old-school veteran, wear the visor for the rest of this season and likely his career.
“I’ve always said there’s no intelligent argument not to wear one,” said Moreau, who’d played 771 NHL games without a visor until he returned against Atlanta.
“I never took a stance on visors in the last 10 years, I just didn’t wear one. I chose not to. It’s unfortunate to go through an eye injury like I went through to realize I should wear one. There’s not really an argument why you shouldn’t.”
Moreau, 33, like other North American junior players of his generation, wore a visor during his career in the OHL with Niagara Falls and Sudbury because it was mandatory.
A first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1994, Moreau took it off when he turned pro with the IHL’s Indianapolis Ice for the 1995-96 season.
“It’s just our culture,” said Moreau. “You grow up watching your idols play and a lot of them didn’t wear visors.
“That’s how you grow up. You’re playing in the NHL and you kind of feel like a warrior and you choose to not wear one. You can’t get too in-depth about why you don’t wear one because there’s no good reason. You just choose not to.”
About 60 per cent of NHL players wear visors now, according to league statistics. Until Thursday, Moreau was one of 10 Edmonton players who did not, which puts the Oilers at about the league average.
While that’s a significant increase from the 15 per cent of players who wore visors in 1998-99, according to a survey done by The Hockey News, a lot of players still choose not to wear one.
“It’s a stubborn, old-school mentality that, admittedly, probably isn’t the right mentality,” said defenceman Sheldon Souray, who has played without a visor during his 598-game NHL career.
“When I came out of junior, I remember the big thing for me was taking my visor off. It made me feel like I’d made it. Now, I didn’t have to be told I had to wear a visor. I know it’s crazy, but I distinctly remember taking the visor off my helmet and feeling, I’ve made it.”
Among some veterans like Moreau and Souray, the degree of reluctance to wear a visor is more acute for players who play an aggressive style. Souray is a prime example.
“The kind of player I was, trying to be a tough, physical guy, keeping a visor on coming out of junior wasn’t what I was going to do,” said Souray, who broke in with New Jersey during the 1997-98 season.
“Back in the day, guys who were wearing visors were like Ulf Samuelsson, Claude Lemieux, guys you could stereotype. For a young guy coming up and wanting to make a name for yourself, to be accountable, you wouldn’t put a visor on and start running around.”
Of the 10 Oilers who don’t wear visors, six could be considered tough, gritty players or enforcers – Souray, Zack Stortini, Steve MacIntyre, rookie Theo Peckham, J.F. Jacques and Jason Strudwick.
“I think the stigma should be gone,” said Steve Staios, who has played 824 NHL games, but started wearing a visor just last season.
“There’s enough good, tough, honest players who engage in fights but wear one. That probably should go by the wayside now. There’s guys you have a lot of respect for who wear visors.”
Despite eye injuries caused by sticks or pucks to Bryan Berard, Dany Heatley, Al MacInnis, Mattias Ohlund and Steve Yzerman in recent years, it sometimes takes an injury to a teammate for the issue to hit home.
“I’ve seen the injury to Ethan, who is a close friend, and it’s scary,” Souray said. “Steve is wearing one.
“I’m not more old school than those guys and they’re doing it, so it’s probably something I’m going to have to look at over the summer and maybe try it and see how it goes.”
As for Moreau, the visor stays on, at least for now.
“I think so,” said Moreau, asked if he’ll wear the visor beyond this season. “I haven’t had that conversation with myself. I haven’t thought that far down the road.
“I’m wearing one right now and for the rest of the year, but I haven’t thought further ahead than that.”