SANTA CRUZ, December 1, 2013 — During last night’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton took an errant puck in the face, just over his right eye. He left the ice with the Sharks trainer and emerged a few minutes later with several stitches on his right eyelid. He returned to the game and, every time the camera found him on the bench, his eye appeared to be swelling further shut and the surrounding facial real estate was turning unseemly shades of purple and brown.
The broadcasters praised Thornton’s resilience and made all the requisite comments about hockey players’ singular toughness and grit, but did not mention the fact that Thornton returned with no facial protection whatsoever.
Thornton is one of a handful of veteran players who have opted to play without a visor attached to their helmets. While his decision is his right under the current rules, it is unbelievable that he was allowed to return to action without protection. Even if he had resisted, due to some engrained players code of machismo, it would be reasonable for the Sharks trainer to insist, with fresh stitches and a rapidly closing eye, that Thornton finish the game with a visor, if not a full cage.
There was a time when professional hockey players did not wear helmets, let alone visors, and goalies played without masks. As players became faster and better conditioned, the game increased in speed and intensity, creating more violent collisions all over the ice.
Players began adopting helmets as a result and, in 1980, the NHL made helmets mandatory. This season, the league instituted a similar rule, requiring all players to affix some type of facial protection to their helmets.
While wearing a visor is no ironclad guarantee that a player will not suffer a facial injury (just ask Bryan Berard), it could have prevented Joe Thornton’s gruesome contusion last night.
Even with the league’s mandatory visor rule, veterans like Thornton are grandfathered in, meaning they have the option to wear a visor or not.With the speed and ferocity of the game as it is currently played, it is unbelievable that any player, especially those who have had close calls, would willingly put their face in the way of sticks, skates and pucks night after night without protection.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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