If he had to do it all over again, Marc Staal would have been wearing a visor.
On March 5, a shot by Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen crashed into Staal’s right eye. And while he was fortunate to escape a career-threatening injury, the New York Rangers defenceman suffered facial fractures and still does not know when he can play again.
“It was the first thing that went through my mind when I hit the ice,” Staal said Tuesday, in his first public statements since the injury. “I should have been wearing a visor. But hindsight is 20/20.”
Like his brothers, Eric and Jordan, who play for the Carolina Hurricanes and who both were frightened into wearing visors after seeing footage of the injury, Marc Staal will wear a visor when he returns to the Rangers lineup.
Just when that will be is not certain, Staal said, although there is speculation he could be ready for the NHL playoffs at the end of the month.
All three of the Staal brothers wore face protection when they were growing up, as mandated by all youth hockey leagues in North America. But like many of their peers, they discarded the eye shields as soon as they hit the NHL.
Only 27 per cent of the league’s 740 players do not wear visors, and the NHL Players’ Association plans to hold a vote this summer on making use mandatory for all players entering the league. If agreed upon, there will likely be a grandfather rule to allow current players to choose whether to wear a visor.
Staal knows how he will vote. “I’m all for grandfathering them. I’ll vote yes. It’s tough to tell guys who’ve been playing for years without one to put it on.”
The first week after the injury was difficult for him and his family, Staal said, even though he was assured by the doctors he would recover and play again.
“It’s been tough,” he said after a short skating session at the Rangers practice rink. “My wife didn’t sleep for the first four nights because she was just wiping blood off my eye. My parents and my brothers were great, too.”
Staal, 26, said his first time on skates was Monday, and he could “hardly get out of bed” Tuesday, but overall he feels good. His main goal now is just to get his fitness back. He still does not have 100-per-cent vision in his right eye, although that is not expected to hinder his return.
“There’s a lot of guys that play without perfect vision in one eye,” he said. “So, I think it’s just going to be one of those things where I’ll be out there and letting your more powerful eye take over and should be good to go.”