For the first time since THN began compiling visor statistics in 1998-99, the number of NHLers wearing eye protection has plateaued. And a pair of personal stories from two players on opposite sides of the issue sheds light as to why.
First, though, the hard numbers: of 647 players polled this year, 59 percent (381) wore a visor, while 41 percent (266) did not. That is the same percentage as our 2009 visor poll. Of course, the overall numbers of visor-wearing players has skyrocketed since 1998-99, when just 15 percent donned a shield, and the percentage had risen each year until now.
But in talking to current players who have put a visor on, or taken one off, the overall message is clear: players still want the choice. Washington defenseman Tom Poti began wearing a visor this season after sustaining a serious eye injury (and a temporary loss of vision) in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
“I’m wearing one now, but I don’t try and influence anybody,” he said. “If another player was telling me what to do, I probably wouldn’t have listened. Guys are going to do what they want and they need to make their own decisions.”
A former player who suffered one of the more gruesome eye injuries in NHL history feels similarly about visors.
“I still think it should be the player’s choice,” said Bryan Berard, who lost most of the vision in his right eye after being clipped by Marian Hossa’s stick in 2000. “I think (mandatory visors) would lead to other problems, because guys will feel more protected. When you have that visor on, it’s easier to hit other guys, because you’re not worried about breaking your nose or your face getting hit.
“But it’s tough, because I don’t want to see guys have to deal with any eye injuries. They’re not fun to deal with.”
Islanders defenseman Bruno Gervais has made the opposite choice this season, taking off the visor he wore since he joined the NHL in 2005.
The 26-year-old is fully aware of the risk he’s incurring, but feels the comfort of playing without a shield gives him an advantage on the ice.
“I’ve had a visor for a while and I think wearing one is a good thing,” Gervais said. “I just wanted to change things up coming into this year, to change a few things and I tried playing without one and felt really comfortable. My mom wasn’t too happy about it, but I don’t regret my decision. Things happen out there no matter what you do. You just have to hope for the best.”
That said, the scare put into Poti last spring made his decision to protect himself relatively easy. The 33-year-old was hurt in Game 6 of Washington’s series against Montreal when a Mike Cammalleri shot deflected off the stick of teammate Shaone Morrisonn and hit him.
“Until you go through it yourself, you don’t know how tough it can be,” Poti said. “Sometimes I look back and think, ‘How crazy was I to not play with one?’ ”
Added Berard: “To be honest, once I did put my visor on, it saved me numerous times from cuts, stitches, sticks or deflected pucks. If I didn’t get injured, I probably never would’ve put the visor on. I was more comfortable without it, but I wanted to protect the one good eye I had left.”
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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