Morgan Barron’s stitched-up face courtesy of a skate blade in an NHL playoff game sent a shudder across the league. That doesn’t mean his fellow players are ready to cover up.
Barron is currently playing with a full face cage on his helmet after he needed 75 stitches in Game 1 of his Winnipeg Jets playoff series against Vegas. Golden Knights‘ goalie Laurent Brossoit’s skate blade became jammed into the space between Barron’s face and his half-visor during a scramble.
The stitches run from the top of Barron’s forehead to the corner of his right eye. He came back to play in that game and has played in the three since then, too.
While many players use cut-resistance socks and wristbands, they have historically met any changes to head gear with resistance. “Freak accident” was a common refrain from players when asked about Barron’s face.
“Super-unfortunate event and glad the guy’s OK because that was really scary,” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid told The Canadian Press. “Any time you’re around the eye, it’s obviously a little bit scary. That being said, it’s a fast game out there. Those things can happen. Those things tend to not happen, knock on wood. It’s kind of a one-off-situation, I guess.”
Players don’t want any hindrances on their vision. They will don a cage or full shield to protect a facial injury while they continue to play but can’t wait to get rid of it. That includes Barron.
“I’d rather be back in a visor for the time being, to be honest with you,” he said. “Just the visibility is so much better. Wearing a mouth guard is another thing. I can’t wear a mouth guard in a cage. It’s too much work to take it in and out on the bench.”
The idea of increasing protection generally was met with a shake of the head.
Players now are required to wear helmets and the half-visors that provide some protection to the eyes. But the league had to add those rules gradually over player objections. Gruesome eye injures to both Bryan Berard (2000) and Manny Malhotra (2011) helped dent arguments against the visors.
As was the case with helmets — Craig McTavish famously played his last season in 1997 without one — there are still a few half-visor holdouts.
“I wish it wasn’t grandfathered in for the visors,” said Toronto’s Ryan O’Reilly, who is one of the few left playing barefaced. “I’ve been without it for many, many years now. It’s just comfort. It makes it easier for me to play.”
There is a marketing argument against more facial protection, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, because fans want to see the players’ faces.
“These are star athletes. If you cover up their face, who would you recognize as a star athlete?” Cooper asked. “You want the fans to be able to see your players and expressions and who we are. .. These are contact sports. There’s so much prevention going on all over the place, but you can’t look after every single injury. It’s unbelievably unfortunate what happened to the poor kid in Winnipeg, but it’s not a norm in our game.”
NHL players from the NCAA wore either a full cage or full face shield during their college careers. Winnipeg’s Nate Schmidt did at Minnesota, but doesn’t want to in the NHL because he thinks it could make players reckless.
“If you start having guys with cages, you’re going to have sticks flying all over the place, guys diving face-first into things and taking things in throats,” he said. “If you have full shield, guys don’t care. They’ll run headfirst into things.”
Junior A leagues across Canada will be played with full facial protection by 2025-26 at the behest of Hockey Canada. The Ontario Junior Hockey League in 2016 and the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League in 2020 already adopted cages and full shields.
The day players reach a level of hockey where they can shed full facial protection feels like a rite of passage for them. They don’t want to go back.
“I think visors are where it’s going to stop for a while,” Toronto defenseman Mark Giordano said.
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Source: Yahoo Sports