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NCAA mulls move to half shields

by Bob Snow /
In the second of a two-part series, looks at two possible rules changes in the NCAA Division I men's programs that encompass five leagues and 58 teams.
Last week, Part I related to a proposed change to reduce the number of players in the five-minute overtime.
This week, Part II looks at a possible change from full headgear to a half shield.
The 12-member NCAA Rules Committee designated both as "future considerations." The committee will consider adopting either or both rules starting with the 2012-13 season.
In regard to the half-shield proposal, how does less protection improve the college game?
"The Division I coaches body has suggested the half-shield as a potential way to change some of the culture of the game and assimilate our equipment to the NHL standards," Rules Committee Chair Ed McLaughlin told "The improvements in technology for the half shields has made them more attractive to some of the men's ice hockey membership."
How does the whole process proceed toward possible adoption?
"We will have discussions and collect data throughout the next two seasons," said McLaughlin. "We will meet as a rules committee in June of 2012 to review all future considerations and vote to make a recommendation to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel after a comment period."
The half-shield proposal has evoked considerable commentary from NCAA alums currently in the NHL about the effect of the current full head gear -- adopted in the late 1970s -- and how the half shield would help the college game.
McLaughlin's reference to "the culture of the game" was the basic argument made by former NCAA players for adopting the half shield.
"One of the big things we talk a lot about," said Carolina's Erik Cole, who played at Clarkson, "is the respect factor. It has definitely changed here over the past years. There's an all-round way to compete hard but stay respectful and responsible. I would have appreciated the half shield when I was in college. I played junior with a half shield and then had to put on the full (college) and then back to the half here (NHL). Seems a step backward. When you take away the full head gear, guys have a little more respect for each other out there with their sticks."
Lightning forward Dominic Moore (Harvard) didn't mince words about his feeling on the NCAA culture issue.
"It's very dirty hockey in terms of elbows and sticks because of the face mask," he said. "I've played enough and seen enough to see that. I'd like to see the stats on concussions. The majority of these guys are student-athletes first -- more student than athlete."
"Sticks do get up quite a bit with the full face," said Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart (Colorado College). "Guys don't feel as vulnerable and they won't catch anybody when there's a safety barrier in front of you."
Bruins teammate Blake Wheeler (Minnesota) took the stick issue to the next level. "It makes no sense now that I'm out why they wear full cages. You do see more guys coming out of school more careless with sticks."
Ryan Carter, Hal Gill, Michael Cammalleri and Jeff Halpern also were candid in their comments about the philosophical clash of culture and contact.
"I agree that safety with the full (head gear) is better," said the Hurricanes' Carter (Minnesota State), "but the way the game is played overall, it's an honest man's game. So the half shield, when you call a spade a spade, there are times when guys in college hide behind a facemask. Going to a half shield would help police that. And it will help keep sticks down. Most kids coming to college played junior, so they wore the half shield before."
"Going to the half-visor is smart," said Montreal's Gill (Providence). "I've seen a lot of guys who are too aggressive with the full face shield and it causes a lot of injuries. Unfortunately, it's not little injuries. You'd rather have a bump on the nose and a cut on the cheek than a neck injury. They get a little more comfortable with the full face than they should be."
"The visor question is a real interesting one," said Gill's Canadiens teammate, Cammalleri (Michigan). "My initial thought looking back at college is that it's a little more reckless and fearless style. That full cage gives guys the confidence to give and take more head hits. And then diving face first to block more shots. If you put on the half shield you actually get more improvement in the actual flow of the game. I'd like to see that."
"I think because they hadn't had many health scares with the full helmet, they're OK with it," said Halpern (Princeton). "Maybe that needs re-thinking with recent head injuries."
The Lightning's Martin St. Louis and Matt Smaby played 10 years apart and geographically opposite on the NCAA map. Both, however, were on the same page about adopting the half shield.
"It would keep some sticks down," said St. Louis (Vermont), "keep some of the hard hits down. With the full shield you feel so protected -- maybe too protected. It would make guys be a little more cautious in a lot of situations."
"The half-shield makes for a more honest game," said Smaby (North Dakota). "You can't run around and cross-check in the face. It would make it a better game. When your face is out there, you'll second guess what you're doing."
Not all NCAA alums in the NHL vote for half-shields, however. Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek (Michigan) and Panthers forward Chris Higgins (Yale) opt for status quo.
"At higher levels, guys have more control over where their shots go," said Komisarek. "In college they are a little more reckless with pucks and sticks. I think it's fine the way it is. Certainly, it shouldn't be done just because they wear half shields in junior."
"I don't see the point of the half-shield," said Higgins. "You're offering up a rule for less protection. You can't fight in college anyway. I don't think you'll level the intenseness of hits at the college level because you only play two games a week."
If the switch from a full cage to half-shield happens, it will be a big change for the players.
"There's definitely an adjustment period," said Smaby. "Not a lot of worry with the full cage. You don't flinch with the full, but you will with the half."
"I had no shield my rookie year here," said Wheeler, "and got a puck to my face. That ended no shield for me. The college guys will appreciate the shield even without the full cover."
"Once you get one helmet in the nose or chin," said Gill, "that's your adjustment."
There also are other considerations.
"You'd see a lot of face lacerations," said Moore. "My first year pro I had more stitches and stuff because I was so used to having my face right down in the pile. The (NCAA) referees would have to speed up the adjustment quicker with more calls."
"A lot more guys will get cuts on their face and teeth knocked out with a visor," said Komisarek. "Going to class and missing teeth? Well, no one would enjoy that."
"I don't know if we had staff that could stitch up," said Halpern. "That's a big problem."
Mark Stuart took that potential problem one step further.
"I always thought it was a big insurance issue with the schools," he said. "I think if they go to a half, there'll be some kind of insurance issue; sign some kind of agreement or whatever."
In the final decision, it might well come to one simple factor.
"I do think anything closer to pro hockey is a good thing," said Halpern.
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