Tyson Nash dot com


Prevention takes a pounding
Hockey players question whether their brethren who wear protective visors are smart or just weak


© Post-Standard, The (Syracuse, NY)
December 13, 1995


Syracuse Crunch center John McIntyre looks at the scratches and scuffs on his helmet visor and knows it is damage that could have been done to his eyes and forehead.


Teammate Tyson Nash, who does not wear a visor, sees a gash above his right eye when he looks in the mirror and is only concerned that the injury will worry his mother.


McIntyre, like Nash, is not a pretty boy. Nash, like McIntyre, wants the use of both eyes when he's done playing hockey.


But pro hockey decorum makes Nash the norm and McIntyre the outcast when it comes to use of face shields. The conversion from Nash's view to McIntyre's can often be a painful one.


"It always seems to take something to happen (an injury) for guys to start wearing it," McIntyre said. "But then it's like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. If the shield's not there, that's my face (getting hit)."


In a sport where hard rubber pucks fly at eye level and sticks often shave cheekbones, visors are still seen as a nuisance. Some players say they impair vision, encourage dangerous stickwork by opponents and are signs of softness.


Face shields are required in junior hockey and full cages are mandated in college, but there are no such rules in the AHL or NHL. A recent survey by The Hockey News revealed that only 84 of 582 players (14.4 percent) in the NHL wear them.


Young players notice that when they're finally free of the requirement to wear protection.


"When you're a kid, it's a big thing to watch the pros," Nash said. "They have no shield on."


Face guards are rare in the AHL. On the Crunch, only McIntyre, defenseman John Namestnikov and center Yuri Kuznetsov wear them regularly.


"I don't think they make much of a difference," said Crunch center Rod Stevens. "You know anything can happen, but you don't want to take away from your vision on the ice."


McIntyre used to think like that. When he played for the Los Angeles Kings early in his career, he refused to wear a visor. He noticed that his forehead and the areas around his eyes were always getting nicked.


He tried wearing a visor, then took it off when Barry Melrose became head coach of the Kings. Word around the locker room was that Melrose wanted tough players, and tough players don't cover their faces.


But McIntyre eventually changed his mind again after getting more cuts near his eyes and went back to using a visor. In the NHL, that sometimes meant having his courage questioned.


"Every once in awhile, they give you the old, 'Take off the window,"' McIntyre said. "But they'll yell at you for anything. If one player lets his game be thrown off because another player says something to him, he wouldn't be very effective."


Syracuse defenseman Brent Tully said "guys would be lying" if they denied there's a notion that playing without a shield is more macho.


Even if opponents don't taunt players with shields, protected players are expected to cut down on the agitation and cheap stuff. The thinking is that anyone who hides behind a mask shouldn't be starting fights.


The NHL and AHL endorse that reasoning by stipulating additional penalty minutes for players with visors who instigate fights.


"If a guy with a visor tends to act tough, guys without would say, 'Why are you wearing a visor if you're trying to act tough?"' Tully said.


Tully, who wore a shield for a few games last season while recovering from a broken nose, also argued that visors encourage opponents to play a little looser with their sticks.


"Guys might tend to take more shots at you if you have a visor," he said.


Crunch team doctor Dan DiChristina, who also worked with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, is undecided about the value of face shields. He said facial injuries caused by pucks are unusual; more common are cuts from fights and sticks.


"If that (wearing visors) could protect somebody from losing an eye, it should be something everyone should do," DiChristina said. "But if it changes the game and brings the sticks up, it could cause other injuries."


Nash should be a poster boy for face shields. Against Albany on Dec. 1, he was hit above the eye by a clearing pass from River Rats goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz. He was lucky that he only received a cut that took 14 stitches to close.


But instead, Nash and other players are prime examples of McIntyre's theory that players don't protect themselves until they're seriously hurt.


"Yeah, I have a scar," Nash said. "But it's hard for a guy who plays a physical game to wear a shield. If it (an injury) happens, it's part of the game, I guess."