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Staal injury sparks conversation on visors in hockey

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Brandon Dubinsk
, sitting in his locker stall after an afternoon practice at Nationwide Arena, was troubled to hear of former teammate Marc Staal's frightening injury last night at Madison Square Garden.

It's something that players, coaches and fans dread and hate to see: a player who is seriously hurt and possibly has his long-term health put at risk by a freak accident in a hockey game. Staal, a star defenseman for the New York Rangers, took a deflected shot to his right eye in the third period of last night's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The scene was hard to watch with Staal writhing in pain on the ice as medical staff rushed to assist him, and elsewhere in the NHL, it sparked conversation of visors in the NHL.

This generation of hockey players coming into the professional ranks is required to wear visors, and in some cases, full cages if playing in the U.S. college hockey system. Canadian major junior hockey governing bodies require the use of visors and they are now mandatory in the American Hockey League, but in the NHL, it still remains a player's decision.

Dubinsky, who wore a visor while playing for the ECHL's Alaska Aces during the lockout, went back to his visor-less preference when the NHL season began in mid-January. He's now in his seventh NHL season and, though he doesn't have a particular reason for not wearing one, admitted that he's entertained the idea of adding a shield.

"I can't tell you why I don't wear one, to be honest with you," Dubinsky said after practice today. "To me, as stupid as it sounds and there's not really an explanation for it...growing up watching the NHL, nobody wore visors and it was cool. That's just sort of the way it was.

"Maybe it was me coming in at 20 years old and being young and stupid, but it is an adjustment going back to a visor but it's an adjustment that takes two days. I've definitely thought about wife, my agent, my parents always tell me to put one on."

Dubinsky wore a visor in the ECHL during the lockout, but has not done so in his seven NHL seasons.

Dubinsky said that while players around the NHL are aware when such incidents occur - like the Manny Malhotra eye injury in March of 2011 that has put his career on hold - it does not become an all-encompassing discussion because each player prefers to make his own decision.

"Players go about their own business, everybody's a professional," Dubinsky said. "Obviously it's a choice, and it shouldn't be a discussion because it's a personal choice. If I want to wear one, I'm going to wear one and if I don't, I'm not going to. When injuries like this happen, we have a conversation like we're having right now. I guess it can stir up guys within, and think maybe it's a good idea after (the previous injuries to players).

"When I first came into the league, the guys that were scrappy and played real hard and real tough, those were the guys who didn't wear visors. It was sort of frowned upon, and since then, the last couple of years more of those players are putting the visor on and it's becoming less and less of a question of toughness and those type of things."

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards had a first-hand account of a horrible eye injury while playing for the Orlando Solar Bears in the late 1990s. Kevin Smyth - older brother of Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth - took a puck to his eye and Richards, his teammate at the time, was close by and watched it unfold.

It was one of the first things Richards thought of when seeing Staal's injury, and as a player who preferred not to wear a visor, Richards agreed with Dubinsky in saying the decision should rest with individual players rather than spark another debate.

"That's scary, scary incident right there," Richards said of Staal's injury. "That's how we react, but I think that's society in general. When something bad happens, we (talk about) all these changes and solutions to help the problem. To me, it's each's their decision and their risk, but how many really bad instances have happened in the game of hockey? It does happen, we all know that."

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