Visor Might Have Prevented Injury
An option players often disregard
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
By BRENDAN McCARTHY The Telegram
Leafs' left winger Todd Gillingham readily admits he's feared losing an eye while playing hockey.Its 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. Theres 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. Its estimated four out of every five professional hockey players dont 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. Why? Some talk about feelings of claustrophobia, others about impaired vision from condensation and/or scratches. Undoubtedly some do it because its 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. "Its just an unwritten rule," explained St. Johns Maple Leafs winger Todd Gillingham. "I dont know if its machoism. I think its the fact that if youre going to play a physical game and if you want respect from others, you dont do that (wear a visor). "Look at the Chicago Blackhawks. No one on that team was allowed to wear a visor. It didnt matter if you were a European and you had played a dozen years with a visor, the unwritten rule was that you didnt. 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 dont 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 couldnt wait to dish the thing, the same way I felt when I left junior," said Dempsey. "Why? I dont have an answer for that. I really dont. That maybe sounds stupid to a lot of people, but thats honestly how I felt. "Im not going to say not wearing a visor is stupid or naive. My opinion hasnt changed. But what happened Saturday makes you think. If you were there, you cant help thinking about it. It cant help but shake you up." "It did me," said St. Johns 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 theres a lot of pressure, at least on North American players, not to wear one. Its something thats sort of left to the Europeans." But even thats 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 Lowells Zdeno Chara on Friday night. Charas 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 couldnt see a thing. I couldnt 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 doesnt make sense not to. Here I am with my eye half shut and Im not even thinking about it," he said. "Its kind of silly, but the unwritten rule is strong. Really strong."
Calgary Herald:Wednesday 11 November 1998 Cherry blind on visors