By Ryan Boyd, Featured Writer
Let us take a second to reminisce about the illustrious past of professional hockey.
Remember Gordy Howe? A player whose name was immortalized by the unconventional “Gordy Howe Hat Trick”- recording a goal, an assist and a fight in one hockey game.
How about Bobby Clark? In his storied career, he led the Philadelphia Flyers to two Stanley Cup Championships, scored over 1,200 points and added a remarkable 1,453 penalty minutes.
And naturally we cannot forget the great Dave “The Hammer” Schultz. To this day, his mark of 472 minutes in the penalty box stands above all other NHL players.
Point is…professional hockey has forever been a sport consisting of outstanding athletes exemplifying unmatched toughness.
However, in the wake of rising injury concerns, many professional sports have taken a focus in protecting their athletes. The NFL has updated its rules to increase the penalty for vicious play on quarterbacks; MLB hitters can now wear helmets that have extra padding and protection over each ear; and following the unfortunate death of Dan Wheldon, IndyCar drivers and officials have met to make the sport safer.
Following Monday night’s brutal injury to Philadelphia captain Chris Pronger, who was struck in the eye by a Toronto stick, an interesting debate on mandatory visors has once again erupted.
But why is it that only violent injuries can spark such debate?
It wasn’t until Jordan Smith suffered a career ending injury in 2006 when a deflected puck hit him in the eye that the AHL made visors mandatory.
The issue should be simple, perhaps even logical. Requiring NHL players to wear a protective visor while on the ice would inevitably create a safer environment. The mind-numbing speed of a professional hockey game is enough to solidify it amongst the most dangerous sports in the world.
But it isn’t that easy.
While many league officials have begun campaigning for a rule alteration, the NHL Players Association has refused to accept such a change. This likely stems from the over-arching stereotype that a player’s toughness would be destroyed if he were to hide behind a visor.
In fact, on multiple occasions, anonymous hockey figures have been quoted explaining this stereotype’s effect on a player’s mind. For many players, being fearless, even if it means sacrificing their body, is an essential part of the game.
However, with reoccurring eye injuries in recent years, it may be time for players to swallow their pride.
Beginning in 2010, Capitals defenseman Tom Poti suffered four fractured bones in his face and nearly lost his vision after being struck by a puck in a playoff game. Later that same year, Mike Mottau of the Islanders was rushed to the hospital after a similar accident.
The span of brutality continued into early 2011 when the Canucks’ Manny Malhotra was forced into surgery and Vincent LeCavalier of Tampa Bay narrowly avoided a serious facial injury.
Fortunately, times are slowly beginning to change.
According to most findings, nearly 70% of professional players now wear a visor at all times on the ice. Not to mention the immense amount of pressure the NHL continues to face as leagues across the world create mandatory rules for the use of visors.
When Pronger returns to the ice, he will most certainly wear a protective visor alongside his teammate Scott Hartnell, who also made the transition after a scary incident his second year in the league.
As for the rest of the league, perhaps this latest injury can finally shed some light on the necessity of change to eradicate the violent injuries that plague the NHL each year.