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Sundin Goes Down For Awhile

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO (CP) -- Now that he's had the scare of his life, Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin believes the visor may go on for good when he returns from his gruesome injury.

"Yeah, I think so, I think I've used all my good breaks,'' Sundin said Friday, meeting reporters for the first time since getting hit in the left eye with a puck seven minutes into Wednesday's season opener. "I've had some close calls with my eyes before.

"Definitely when I start playing I'm going to have to wear one for sure and hopefully I can continue it. That's my goal, for sure.''

The fact that he's not totally sure he'll keep the visor on certainly seems to defy logic, but it also underlines the reluctance so many NHL players have in wearing one. In a game where every split second counts, seeing the ice as well as they can is paramount for some players, even with the enormous risk attached to leaving their eyes unprotected.

"I'm well aware on the discussion on both ends of the argument,'' Leafs GM John Ferguson said after practice Friday. "Personal choice versus safety, or comfort versus safety. It's an issue that in many ways remains unresolved.

"But I have encouraged those who want to wear one to do so, for sure.''

Sundin, who suffered a fractured orbital bone, is out at least four-to-six weeks and maybe longer if he ends up needing surgery. Doctors will re-examine him in five-to-six days once the swelling goes down and determine whether the orbital bone is healing on its own or whether he'll need surgery.

His injury has once again sparked up the debate in these parts about having visors become mandatory in the NHL, the Leafs a little sensitive to the subject after what happened to Bryan Berard in March 2000. The former Toronto defenceman lost sight in one eye after taking a high stick.

"I can only go back to when I was on the ice when Bryan Berard's eye injury happened to him, it's certainly something you don't want anyone to go through,'' said Sundin, his left eyeball barely visible.

But does that mean he would support mandatory visors in the NHL?

"It's a good question,'' he said. "I think maybe after a certain age, yes.

"I don't know if a guy over 30, who have played without one their whole careers, I think it would be tough for them to make it mandatory for everybody. But when you have injuries to your face and your eye area, you definitely re-evaluate your own thoughts about wearing one and that's going to be the case with me for sure.''

The league has long wanted to make visors mandatory, but can't do so without the blessing of the NHL Players' Association because it's a collectively bargained issue. The union has held player votes on the subject in the past and everytime the overwhelming response is that players want to reserve the right to make a personal choice on the matter.

But the union continues to discuss the matter. Player reps have been asked in the last two months to get feedback from their teammates on that very issue.

"Our members have always felt strongly that wearing a visor is a matter of individual preference, and we respect and support their right to make a personal choice,'' said NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon. "That said, the NHLPA continues to seek feedback on safety matters from our membership.''

The NHLPA says it plans to conduct an online survey of players on the issue in the future.

Just hearing Sundin's account of what he felt after being struck by the puck should scare any player into wearing a visor.

"I didn't see, really, for almost five minutes out of my left eye and that obviously makes you concerned,'' he said. "But it came back pretty quick, I started to see light.

"And from what I hear my vision is supposed to get back to normal.''

That it happened to Sundin is certainly out of the norm. The star centre had been extremely durable during his career, rarely missing any significant time.

"I've been fortunate _ knock on wood _ not to have a lot of serious injuries,'' he said. "More than anything it's frustrating to be out of action again, I've waited long enough to get some real hockey.

"To get an injury in the first period of the first game is really frustrating.''

The Leafs (0-0-1) may also be without winger Jeff O'Neill when they host the Montreal Canadiens (2-0-0) on Saturday night (CBC, 7 p.m. ET). He's got a shoulder problem after crashing into the net Wednesday night.

"I need to get more tests done (Friday), we'll see what happens,'' O'Neill said.

The Leafs called up centre Kyle Wellwood from the AHL Marlies. He'll suit up against the Habs.

Sundin said with Eric Lindros, Jason Allison and Matt Stajan at centre, his team will be able to live without him.

"I think this team has proven in the last five-to-six years that we're not a team that can't play without any of our players, it doesn't matter who it is,'' said Sundin. "And I think we're going to see in the next few games.

"We've been a strong team playing through injuries and I'm certain that's going to be the same case this time. Eric had a good game (against Ottawa) and Jason did, too, those guys will pick up the slack.''

Montreal heads into Saturday's game on a roll, having opened its season with road wins in Boston and New York.

"We played a lot better in New York than we did Boston, but I think there are things we can improve on and do better,'' said Montreal captain Saku Koivu. "It's still early.

"There are the new rules and stuff to get used to, but we're happy that we're 2-0. It's a good start for us.''

 

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