After seeing their puck-struck brother writhing on the ice in agony, then listening to their parents’ concerns, Eric and Jordan Staal finally did the right thing: They attached visors to their hockey helmets and vowed to keep them there.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ Staal brothers practised Friday wearing visors for the first time in their NHL career. The decision to go with additional protection came 17 days after their brother Marc, a defenceman with the New York Rangers, took a deflected slap shot just above his right eye and suffered multiple facial fractures. Staal remains sidelined with less than 100-per-cent vision and it’s uncertain if he’ll compete again this season.
The Hurricanes played in New York this week and the three brothers spoke. Their parents, Henry and Linda of Thunder Bay, were also present. Jordan said his mother “threw a few comments out, as usual” about the need to wear visors. Given a four-day break in their regular season, Eric and Jordan opted to use their practice time to get used to wearing one.
“I’m hoping to wear it Tuesday,” Eric Staal said of the Hurricanes’ next game, against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. “It’s a decision that’s been burning for a little while. At this point, I feel the risk isn’t worth it, just because of the injuries I’ve seen to other people – a lot of people in this organization, family. Sometimes you feel invincible. As many guys have seen, you’re not. It’s just being smarter.”
Asked how influential his parents were in helping him get smarter, Eric replied: “They’ve been harping on me for years about it. You come to the point where you’ve got to make a decision. Jordan and I talked about it. Why not give it a shot?”
The Staals offer a classic example in the visor saga. All the brothers, including Jared, who plays for Carolina’s American Hockey League affiliate, wore visors throughout their minor hockey and Ontario Hockey League major-junior days. Marc, Eric and Jordan took theirs off once they got to the NHL, although Eric noted he wore one while playing for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Somehow, not having to wipe the sweat off the visor and “feeling the air in your face,” said Eric, became more important than preserving an irreplaceable asset. Having now witnessed just how damaging an eye injury can be, the Staals have changed their view.
“I’ve had a bunch around that area,” Jordan Staal said of pucks that have nicked him near the eye. “You think you’re invincible … I think that grandfather idea [giving veteran players the option to wear a visor while making it mandatory for players entering the NHL] is a good idea. It’s a smart thing to wear.”
Following Wednesday’s meeting of NHL general managers in Toronto, both the league and the NHL Players’ Association seemed in agreement on grandfathering visors. NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider said the union would look into making visors mandatory for players coming into the league. Currently, 75 per cent of NHL players wear them.
“When I played I didn’t wear one or a mouthguard,” Carolina head coach Kirk Muller said. “It’s a different generation, a different mindset. It’s about safety now.”
For Marc Staal, this isn’t the first time he has been rocked by a serious injury. In February of 2011, he was carrying the puck along the side boards when he was hooked by a Carolina player. With the puck in his skates, he looked down and was hit high by his 6-foot-4, 205-pound brother Eric. Marc ended up coming back for the playoffs, but complained of headaches.
At the Rangers’ training camp for the 2011-12 season, doctors determined Staal was suffering from postconcussion symptoms. He sat out the first three months of the regular season.
“I’ve had someone extremely close to me go through something that you don’t want to see anyone go through,” Eric said of his brother’s latest setback. “So put [a visor] on, smarten up. … The best players in the world all wear one, they do fine.”