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Shea-ved Ice: Should NHL Mandate Full Facial Protection?

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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It took less than 90 seconds for the Penguins roster to take another hit on Saturday.

Sidney Crosby lost some teeth and suffered a broken jaw after a slap shot by Brooks Orpik deflected up into his face.

Crosby had no time to react and dropped to the ice immediately. As he got up and skated off with a towel in his mouth, blood and teeth were left on the ice from yet another unfortunate accident in the National Hockey League.

While I do feel bad for Crosby and any other player this happens to, it’s an injury that is easily prevented by wearing full facial protection.

Let me preface this by saying, I’ve had an issue with this for a long time.

The league has at least started talking about mandating half-visors after Marc Staal took a slap shot to the eye earlier this season. Staal still has not returned to the lineup.

Seeing that was enough for Orpik himself to put a half-visor on his own helmet. As fate would have it, the visor saved him when a shot deflected off of it in the first game he wore it.

I understand the players feel like they can see the ice better without the restriction of a full face shield or cage. I also understand that the players are well within their right to not have any facial protection if they wish.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the league didn’t even require players to wear helmets. So, the fact they are just now considering mandating visors should come as no surprise.

The dangers aren’t even just limited to pucks. Just ask Chris Pronger, who has likely had his career cut short in addition to his life being severely altered because of an errant stick to the eye from Mikhail Grabovski in 2011.

Pronger is another guy who didn’t wear a visor. Again, a fully protected face likely prevents the severity of the injury sustained.

A few years prior, Bryan Berard almost lost his eye because of a follow-through on a shot by Marian Hossa.

Obviously, the Pronger and Berard situations are extreme examples of what can happen when a stick makes contact with a player’s face. What about the incidents of high-sticking penalties that draw blood and a four-minute double-minor penalty?

There are countless other examples of how this equipment change could have prevented injury. An image I will never forget is Ryan Malone sitting on the Penguins’ bench during the three overtime marathon Game 5 against the Red Wings in 2008.

Malone had taken a slap shot right to the nose while screening Chris Osgood, but he returned to the game with cotton stuffed up both of his nostrils. Clearly, the guy is a warrior and should be commended for coming back to the game. Again, it never would have happened if he was wearing a full face shield.

Part of the debate stems from the disparity between college hockey in the United States and junior hockey in Canada and around the world.

College players in the U.S. are mandated to wear full facial protection. Junior hockey players in Canada only have to wear a half-visor.

If you’re an American-born hockey player and stayed within the system through college, you’ve been playing with full facial protection your entire life. So, I’m sorry if I have a hard time understanding the logic in taking off the full shield or cage after being drafted.

The players in the World Junior Hockey Championships are only required to wear a half-visor as well.

Again, I feel bad for the players who get injured in these accidents, but the point is, they’re preventable.

In a time where the league is working to make the game safer in the wake of a concussion epidemic, how is this not even on the agenda?

If they’re already talking about mandating half-visors with a grandfather clause for all current players, why not just go the distance and mandate full coverage?

Injuries are always a part of any physical game, especially hockey, but wouldn’t it make sense to take steps to prevent injuries you have some control of?

There are some camps who want to eliminate fighting from the game. While I’m not in agreement with them in the least, adding a full cage or visor would likely cut down the frequency of fights.

Think about it for a second.

You’ve got two guys in the heat of battle who would have to stop everything and remove their helmets to engage in fisticuffs. At that point, the linesmen could have enough time to intervene and break it up before they even got going.

Some will argue that the “macho” mentality will kick in and players who wear a full cage will be looked upon as weak or some other variation.

A mandate on full face protection might be the only way to eliminate that and if it prevents these types of injuries, I’m all for it and so should the league.

Here’s hoping Crosby gets well soon and that the league takes appropriate action on this matter.

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice

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