Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Seeing the light on visors

Staal brothers credit mother for decision

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Maybe NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should have Linda Staal's phone number on speed dial because when it comes to solving problems in hockey, she appears to have major sway.

The mother of four sons playing pro hockey let her sons know it was time to begin wearing visors and Tuesday night, two of them did just that in action for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Both Eric and Jordan Staal wore visors for the Hurricanes against the Winnipeg Jets after spending the last couple of weeks adjusting to them in practice. The decision comes after their brother, Marc, suffered a season-ending eye injury on March 5 while playing with the New York Rangers.

"We had a dinner in New York with our parents and it wasn't a real long discussion. It's something we've talked about for a while with my mom and my wife and Jordan's wife have been trying to get us to do," said Eric Staal, the eldest sibling and captain of the Hurricanes. "It's a matter of making the decision after seeing some of the injuries guys have gone through. It's not worth the risk."

At the NHL's recent GM meetings, a vote passed to grandfather in a visor rule with no new players to the league allowed to play without a visor. The recommendation will go to the competition committee this summer and if it clears that hurdle, will then go to the board of governors for final approval.

The NHLPA has long been against such a rule change but with 75 per cent of the league's players now wearing a visor, the union's stance has softened.

Eric Staal said wearing a visor will have no impact on his game.

"You look at the top scorers in the league and they are all wearing them. I should be able to, too," said Staal. "I played at the highest level of hockey at the Olympics wearing one and had no problem. My game was fine. If what happened to Marc happened to me, I would want him to put one on so Jordan and I have looked at each other and decided to do this."

Jordan Staal agrees with his brother the risk doesn't outweigh any perceived benefits of not wearing a visor.

"With what happened to Marc and lots of other players in the league, it just seems smart to put one on so we decided to try it," said Staal. "We've been wearing it in practice and it's been fine. I think every player can get used to it. My mom wants her kids to be safe just like any mom and so I'm sure you can guess what words she had on the subject. She's just a mom being a mom."

Hurricanes union representative Kevin Westgarth says he understands all players will someday wear visors, but he's reluctant to have the change mandated.

"I think lots of guys wear them and there is some added protection," said Westgarth, who has made a living in the NHL as a fighter. "I think we should maintain player choice. In the AHL, we would just take our helmets off before a fight but that introduces other areas of liability and potential for injury. But this isn't a safe game or designed to be a safe game. We have to do our best to protect players and players have to take responsibility of taking care of themselves."

Westgarth argued that better equipment is resulting in more severe injuries.

"It's kind of counterintuitive but as the equipment has improved, there has been more potential for injury. Shoulder pads are so good that you can launch yourself into a player at 35 miles an hour or whatever it may be and if you hit him in the head he's going to get a concussion," said Westgarth.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2013 C3

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