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Most hockey players still shun protective eyewear despite the clear safety risk. But with visors now mandatory in the AHL, can the NHL be far behind?
Ken Warren, CanWest News Service
Published: Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ottawa Senators defenceman Wade Redden is wearing a nasty reddish-purple scar under his right eye these days, courtesy of a deflected puck that caught his cheek during Saturday's NHL game against the Canadiens.

If Redden been wearing a half-visor, as he did last season, his eyes and nose would have been protected and the puck might easily have bounced away without leaving a mark. If the puck had caught him a few inches higher, Redden could have joined the expanding list of players who have suffered devastating eye injuries.

Back in March 2000, Bryan Berard of the Toronto Maple Leafs suffered severe damage to his right eye after being hit on the follow-through of a shot by Senators right-winger Marian Hossa. Berard missed the 2000-01 season before returning to the NHL, with limited eyesight. The accident wouldn't have happened if Berard had been wearing a facial shield.

"Sure, it makes you think about it," said Redden, who plans to experiment with a new visor model in the coming weeks. "I'm not totally against putting one on. It's just a personal preference."

That choice, however, may soon be a thing of the past.

The NHL is keeping a close eye on the American Hockey League, where visors were ruled mandatory for this season. NHL general managers, who have long-term investments in prospects playing in the minor leagues, approved the measure.

"It will obviously be interesting to watch and see how it works," Colin Campbell, the NHL's vice-president and director of hockey operations, said recently. "It's one step closer to us."

AHL president Dave Andrews aggressively pushed for the rule change after Anaheim Ducks prospect Jordan Smith suffered a career-ending left eye injury while playing for the Portland Pirates on Feb. 24. Smith now has a prosthetic and his hockey career is over.

"Over the last 10-12 years, we've had six or seven players who have had their careers ended by eye injuries," Andrews said.

The most compelling argument for the AHL was a comprehensive study presented by Dr. Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey. While players can still suffer eye injuries if they are wearing visor -- Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was clipped in the left eye by the stick of Hurricanes winger Jason Williams in a playoff game in May -- Stuart's study found that a player was 4.7 times more likely to suffer an eye injury if he wasn't wearing a visor.

"I come from a hockey background, I understand the arguments against it, but there has been a huge improvement in the past five or 10 years, if you look at the quality of options [for visors]," Andrews said. "The performance argument doesn't hold a lot of water. Every player coming into the league has worn one before, whether it's from Canadian junior or Europe or the East Coast League."

Some veteran players, however, say there's a certain discomfort involved. The shields often fog up during games. The sensation of air on the eyes, without protection, makes some players feel more lively on the ice. When wearing visors, it can take a split-second longer for a player to find the puck in his skates, which can make the difference in a scoring opportunity.

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