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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Tim Connolly (Photo: Bill Wippert)
A scary moment for Buffalo Sabres’ centerman Tim Connolly prompted a debate today at HSBC Arena following the morning skate.

Halfway through the second frame of Friday’s match-up against the Washington Capitals, Connolly was struck on the left side of the face on a dump-in by defenseman Brian Pothier. The gash required eight stitches and, more importantly, a visor on Connolly’s helmet when he returned to the ice the following period.

With that, the argument of whether visors should be made a mandatory part of NHL equipment began.

“I almost think it should be,” Lindy Ruff said. “It’s almost coming to that point where, in Tim’s case again, first you’re thinking [he may have broken a] face bone, orbital bone, then you’re thinking concussion. And that can be prevented.”

However, some players feel the shield actually obstructs their game, choosing to put comfort, and perhaps visibility, over the added protection.

“I think it will prevent more than it will actually hinder you,” Ruff said. “Some guys just don’t like it. They don’t like that fogged up feeling, they don’t like when moisture gets on it. For young kids that have worn it all their life I think they are accustomed to it. You are seeing more and more guys wearing it because more and more guys that wear it [now] had to wear it throughout their careers.”

Many of the Sabres voluntarily wear the visor. In fact, only six players on the active roster- Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair, Nathan Paetsch, Andrew Peters, Nolan Pratt and Tim Connolly- go without it.

Incidentally, Mair, who refuses to wear a visor, has experienced first-hand the consequences of not having one. In 2001 while playing for Manchester in the AHL a puck hit him below his eye, requiring four plates and 16 screws to be surgically inserted near his right orbital bone.

“I was just chasing the guy in the corner and he turned around quickly and kind of panicked with the puck,” Mair said. “He tried to ice it and unfortunately it hit me.”

When Mair returned to the ice, he was required to wear a visor for the remainder of the season.

“You end up getting used to it but it felt good to get it off. It was just more of a precautionary thing because of all the plates and screws and stuff that was in there, they need time to grip to the bone, but it feels fine now.”

Even after the injury, he maintains players should have a choice in wearing a shield.

“I think [the choice of wearing a visor] is part of the culture of the game,” he said. “I don’t think it would hurt the game if it wasn’t there but there might be a little bit more player identifications without the visors for the fans. There is also some thought out there that the sticks could increasingly get up if everyone was wearing visors. I know I played with a guy that had a visor and still lost his eye so it’s not a foolproof safety net.”

Adam Mair (Photo: Bill Wippert)
That player was Mark Deyell who was with the St. John’s Maple Leafs in the AHL. During a 1999 playoff game he was struck in his left eye with a high stick and had to undergo major surgery as a result. The extent of the damage was so severe that he missed the entire following season.

“I was also actually in Toronto with Bryan Berard when was hit on the ice,” Mair said of his former teammate, who suffered a similar fate to Deyell. “It’s something that obviously happens but I think guys know going in that there is always a risk of injury.”

Berard, like Mair, has continued to uphold the view that players should have a choice in wearing a visor.

“I just think there are still too many old-school people in hockey from everyone to coaches, to management to players to the union that I think they will keep that as a choice for a while,” Mair said.

Several proposals in reference to implementing the equipment have circulated around the league in recent years, including making visors mandatory to players entering the NHL but giving those already in the league a choice- as was the case when officials made helmets mandatory in 1979.

The AHL bypassed such initiatives in the summer of 2006 when it mandated that all players wear visors.

“In ‘79 it was macho not to wear a helmet and now everybody’s got a helmet. It used to be macho to stand up and fight for yourself. Now it’s macho to draw a penalty,” Ruff said. “A lot of things have changed. Times have changed.”

At least for now, the argument remains the same.
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