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Lowell Sun:

Visor Might Have Prevented Injury

 An option players often disregard

Tuesday, November 10, 1998
Sun Staff

LOWELL -- The Lowell Lock Monsters continue to be numbed by the tragic eye injury suffered Saturday night in Newfoundland by 24-year-old defenseman Jeff Libby.

Perhaps the sorriest aspect of the injury is it could have been prevented by a piece of plastic.

Wearing a protective visor, or a half shield, as it's more commonly known, would have prevented the kind of damage which may force doctors to remove Libby's right eye, according to Mike Holden, Lowell's equipment manager.

"For sure that wouldn't have happened," he said.

Had Libby been wearing a half shield, the skate blade of a St. John's player may still have cut Libby's face, but his eyes would have been protected, Holden said.

Libby was wearing a helmet, but without a protective visor, the eyes of players are susceptible to pucks, sticks and, on rare occasion, skate blades.

Collegiate players are required to wear protective shields. No such demands are placed on professional players, and few wear protective visors.

Only two Lock Monsters -- Sean Haggerty and Evgeny Korolev -- wear the visors, which are sheets of clear plastic that provide cover down to about the bottom of a player's nose.

Why don't more players wear the visors? In the rough-and-tumble world of professional hockey, players pride themselves on being tough.

They play through pain. They return from injuries quickly. They drop the gloves when their manhood is questioned.

It's all part of an unspoken code.

But being macho can have its dark side, as Libby's injury tragically illustrates.

"Absolutely," said Mike Kennedy, a 26-year-old veteran of 144 National Hockey League games with the Dallas Stars and one of Lowell's top players. "You don't want to be known as a guy that runs around with a visor. But I think that's going to change, especially with this incident that could change. I might wear one."

"It's the silliest thing going," said Tom Rowe, the Lock Monsters' general manager. "I can remember my first year in pro hockey in '75. I didn't wear a helmet because it wasn't the macho thing to do. But I got my clock cleaned. I got hit from behind in Pittsburgh and my head went up to the glass and I got cut up pretty bad."

When he returned to action, Rowe was wearing a helmet.

Rowe said it's "an unwritten rule" among players that wearing a protective visor is an apparent show of weakness.

"But that's a bunch of hogwash," Rowe said.

Rowe said it's management's responsibility to take a look at making protective visors mandatory.

"Number one, the players are so much bigger, stronger and faster now that anything can happen. The ice surface is really small given the size of the players today. There's nowhere to hide," Rowe said. "I'm telling you, if I played now I'd be wearing one."

Several of the NHL's brightest stars wear the half shields, including Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque and Anaheim Mighty Stars center Paul Kariya.

"I don't see (the shield) hampering his playing ability," Rowe said of Bourque, who recently moved into fourth place on the NHL's all-time assist list.

Holden holds out hope that the American Hockey League will make the half shields mandatory.

"I don't think it will change now" despite Libby's injury, he said. "Everybody is shaken up because it could have been any one of them. It would be great if a couple of guys walked in and said they wanted the protective visors. But I don't think it will happen."

One Lock Monster contemplating wearing a half shield is Kennedy, who hasn't worn one in his eight years of professional hockey.

"I feel real bad for him," said a shaken-up Kennedy following Sunday's 6-4 victory over the Portland Pirates, a game which saw Kennedy record Lowell's first-ever hat trick. "God, it's unbelievable."

Kennedy, who was on the ice when Libby was injured, had trouble sleeping afterward. Part of that was because he likes Libby so much; part of it was because he knows he could have been the injured player.

"I don't know what I'm doing" playing without eye protection, Kennedy said.

Kennedy survived a similar incident in 1995, when he was playing with Dallas. A skate flew up and cut his face, but, luckily for Kennedy, the skate cut him below his nose.

Kennedy said the only drawback to wearing the half shield is that the shield constantly becomes foggy, especially late in shifts. Holden said the visors also get scratched quite easily.

Libby is no stranger to the protective masks -- he was forced to wear one through the youth ranks all the way up to the University of Maine, where he skated from 1994-97.

St. John's Telgram

For Tuesday, November 10, 1998

Saving face 11/10/98


Leafs' left winger Todd Gillingham readily admits he's feared losing an eye while playing hockey.

It’s a small, thin piece of plastic, see-through plastic at that. But figuratively at least, the visor looms as a huge wall in the world of professional hockey.

All respected medical evidence conclusively states visors or shields or a combination of both, significantly reduce the chances of facial injury to hockey players. But in spite that, the vast majority of pro players choose not to use them.

There’s nothing yet to indicate Lowell Lock Monsters defenceman Jeff Libby wants to become a central figure in a campaign to champion the mandatory use of visors at the pro level. But however Libby chooses to proceed in the weeks and months following the incident which has robbed him of the sight in his right eye, the incident itself has sparked — if not debate — at least renewed discussion about the issue.

It’s estimated four out of every five professional hockey players don’t wear visors. This even though their use is compulsory at the Canadian major junior level, the chief hothouse for the NHL, AHL and other professional leagues. In the U.S. college circuits, from which Libby emerged, full face masks are required.

Nevertheless, most players readily discard the shields when they turn pro.


Some talk about feelings of claustrophobia, others about impaired vision from condensation and/or scratches.

Undoubtedly some do it because it’s easy to see the no-visor party is in the majority among their counterparts.

That may be the result of a herd mentality, but heavy peer pressure is also at play.

Many pros have outright contempt for visor-wearing opponent, especially those who frequently mix it up. For them, the visor is not just a protective device, but an indication of a flaw in, or lack of, character.

"It’s just an unwritten rule," explained St. John’s Maple Leafs winger Todd Gillingham. "I don’t know if it’s machoism. I think it’s the fact that if you’re going to play a physical game and if you want respect from others, you don’t do that (wear a visor).

"Look at the Chicago Blackhawks. No one on that team was allowed to wear a visor. It didn’t matter if you were a European and you had played a dozen years with a visor, the unwritten rule was that you didn’t. And nobody did and it stayed that way until Eric Weinrich."

Weinrich, a Chicago defenceman, ended the silent sanction when he put on a visor after his eyeball was bruised by a high stick in a game against Dallas.

"I don’t want to go around the rest of my life with one eye," Weinrich said at the time.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Leafs’ captain Nathan Dempsey was, in own words, "only inches from having the same thing" happen to him as happened to Libby Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. A skate blade cut Dempsey just below his right eye, a laceration that required 30 stitches.

"I had to wear a visor when I came back, but to be honest, I couldn’t wait to dish the thing, the same way I felt when I left junior," said Dempsey.

"Why? I don’t have an answer for that. I really don’t. That maybe sounds stupid to a lot of people, but that’s honestly how I felt.

"I’m not going to say not wearing a visor is stupid or naive. My opinion hasn’t changed. But what happened Saturday makes you think. If you were there, you can’t help thinking about it. It can’t help but shake you up."

"It did me," said St. John’s defenceman Jeff Ware. "I was never crazy about wearing a visor. I felt I have a better perception of the ice without it. But right now, those reasons start to seem trivial. Definitely. But there’s a lot of pressure, at least on North American players, not to wear one. It’s something that’s sort of left to the Europeans."

But even that’s not a hard-and-fast stereotype. Dimitri Yakushin, yet another Leaf rearguard, is a Ukrainian who wore a full face mask playing minor hockey in his homeland — "it was like being behind bars" and a plastic visor as a junior in North America — "I never have liked wearing it."

As Gillingham spoke Monday, he did so with a badly bruised right eye, the result of a fight with Lowell’s Zdeno Chara on Friday night. Chara’s finger caused a laceration and Gillingham has had some trouble focusing.

"When it happened, the first thing that came into my mind was that I lost an eye. When I went down to the ice, I couldn’t see a thing. I couldn’t catch my breath and I got stomach sick. And I thought ‘Is it worth this?’ "

"On Saturday, when I saw (Libby) stand up from the ice and saw right away that it was bad, I said to myself again ‘Is it worth this?’ "

Despite those strong feelings, when asked by the Leafs’ medical staff to wear a visor in light of his eye injury, Gillingham said no.

"It doesn’t make sense not to. Here I am with my eye half shut and I’m not even thinking about it," he said. "It’s kind of silly, but the unwritten rule is strong. Really strong."

Calgary Herald:

Wednesday 11 November 1998

Cherry blind on visors

Protection worth more than any 'macho' point
Bruce Dowbiggin, Calgary Herald

As usual, Don Cherry's timing was impeccable. As usual, he made himself perfectly clear. And, as usual, he was wrong for all the right reasons.

Hockey Night in Canada's oracle believes that wearing a visor on your hockey helmet is akin to wearing a skirt. Not manly enough. A visor is something only a coward would hide behind.

"Save your eyes, but for god's sake don't lose your manhood" is the message he's been disseminating on his little fireside chats each Saturday.

Naturally, a few medical types have tried to inform him over the years that visors can be of some small benefit to mankind. The game moves so fast these days that the eye never sees that stick or skate or puck that will blind it for life.

Just ask Doug Barkley, who does the Flames radio broadcasts, how quickly even an NHL player can be robbed of his sight. A stick in the eye ended Barkley's career in Detroit back in the 1960s.

But our Don's too clever to play their little game.

In this past weekend's TV bombast, Cherry showed video of several players being cut by their visors when checked by opponents. Exhibit A in the case of Donald S. Cherry vs. Visor Wimps was the crunching check administered by Eric Lindros of the Flyers on Andreas Dackell of Ottawa. Dackell's visor rode up on his face, cutting him for 35 stitches.

"I been sayin' this for a while now, kids," intoned Cherry. "That's the problem with these visors, here . . . see, they cut you when you take a big hit. Now I'm not telling you not to use them, BUT . . ."

Here the audience is given a ponderous pause to make the connection . A raised eyebrow, a tug on the cuffs, a double take worthy of Jim Carrey. "But . . ."

Message delivered.

Forget that Dackell -- in fact, most players -- are cut by their visors because they wear the chin straps on their helmets too loose. The helmets on your typical NHL stars sit lightly atop their heads, bouncing along like a kite in a high wind, while the chin strap dangles limply on their chests.

A solid check, such as the one Lindros threw on Dackell, displaces the helmet and drives the visor into the cheek or eyebrow or chin. Dackell admitted as much afterward, vowing to keep his helmet tightened in the future.

But the facts did not get in the way of Cherry's diatribe. His inference was clear. The days of bare-faced, helmetless boys doing battle were manly. And if some pretty boy gets a little cut because he used a visor, well, don't say he wasn't warned by the Coach.


"But I'm not telling you not to use them." Right.

Perhaps the seeds of doubt sewn by Cherry and others in hockey played on the mind of young Jeff Libby of the Lowell Lock Monsters. Libby, a defenceman for the American Hockey League club, had always worn a visor in his days with the University of Maine. But this was the pros, the big time, where they'll run you out of the league if you show fear or succumb to intimidation. Going without a visor sends a message.

Ignoring pleas from his family, Libby had decided to play without the visor. He was not going to be intimidated.

Then, Saturday night in St. John's, Nfld., the skate blade of Mark Deyell of the Maple Leafs sliced open Libby's right eye. The contents of the eye spilled onto the frozen surface of the St. John's Arena.

He frantically skated around the ice, trying to hold back the gore. As hockey accidents go, this one was horrific. Libby has almost assuredly lost the eye. His career is over. He will have only his disability insurance to comfort him as he tries to make a life away from playing the sport he loved.

It needn't have happened this way, of course. Doctors in St. John's say that accident would almost certainly have been prevented or mitigated somewhat had Libby been wearing his visor. Libby might have a scary tale to tell, but at least he'd have his career. If only he'd kept the visor.

Was Cherry responsible for Libby's youthful bravado? Do the words of one man carry that much weight? That's a reach. Just because Don Cherry told you to jump off a cliff . . . well, you get the idea.

Still, the attitudes fostered by Cherry and the other messiahs of macho pervade the hockey culture. Player agent Rich Winter recalls one of his European clients who doffed his visor upon coming to play in the NHL.

"He wanted to be just the like the Canadian guys," recalls Winter. "His general manager called me to ask if it was such a smart decision."

Fortunately, Winter's client still has his eyes intact. That is more than you can say for Jeff Libby.

But at least he has his manhood. Right, Don?

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