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Canadian players thinking about keeping visors after world championship

Andrew Ladd's fiancee is a big fan of international hockey rules.

A trained optometrist, she has tried unsuccessfully to convince Ladd to wear a visor while playing for the Atlanta Thrashers. The Canadian forward is forced to use a protective shield at the IIHF World Hockey Championship and says he'll consider keeping it after a trial period here.

Some recent incidents have made him reconsider his position on the issue.

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"Just seeing what happened to (Canucks forward) Manny Malhotra and those types of injuries, it's scary," Ladd said Thursday. "It can end pretty quickly if you take one in the eye."

Three Canadians have put on a visor for the world championship. International rules require every player born after Dec. 31, 1974 to have one - forcing Ladd, forward Chris Stewart and defenceman Marc Methot to use eye protection.

Methot hopes to get more comfortable with a visor during the tournament and will consider keeping it when he returns to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fall. His mother has long been pressuring him to do it.

"I've had some really close calls," said Methot. "If anything, I should see those as signs. I think I'm going to wear one this summer."

Roughly 60 per cent of NHL players wear a visor and the numbers continue to grow each year. The NHL Players' Association has had an ongoing discussion with its membership about possibly making them mandatory for all rookies but the idea has yet to generate enough support.

The topic will be broached once again at the NHLPA's player meetings over the summer.

Stewart had a scare while playing for the St. Louis Blues earlier this season but is unlikely to keep his visor on after the world championship. He thinks it hampers his ability to read the play.

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"I haven't worn one since the American Hockey League, it's been about three years," said Stewart. "I got a puck in the eye earlier this year and had to put a visor on for the rest of the game. I couldn't see a thing."

Carlo Colaiacovo, his teammate with the Blues and here at the world championship, once thought the same way. However, he was blinded in the left eye for a couple days this season after being hit with the puck.

"It was the scariest moment of my life," said Colaiacovo. "I thought my career was over."

SALES JOB: Brian Burke figures USA Hockey now has a powerful recruiting tool for the world championship - television.

For the first time ever, each of the American games at the tournament are being televised back home by Versus (using TSN's feed). Burke, a member of the U.S. management team, believes it will help increase the exposure of the event and provide more incentive for players to accept invitations in the future.

"If your kid went to this tournament, in Canada you can follow it," said Burke. "But if your kid goes to this tournament and you're from Minnesota, you can't watch the games, there's very little newspaper coverage. It's not the same.

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"So this is a tough sell for us with U.S. kids."

Burke is happy with the young team USA Hockey brought to this event because it should provide the players with valuable international experience. The only member of the team over age 28 is 34-year-old goaltender Ty Conklin.

"We've invested in this team with a lot of guys that would be important assets for us down the road," said Burke. "So far, so good."

LOYAL JACK: One player that never needs to be sold on international hockey is U.S. defenceman Jack Johnson.

The 24-year-old is currently representing his country for the ninth different time and made the trip to Slovakia almost immediately after his Los Angeles Kings were eliminated from the NHL playoffs. The reason behind his loyalty is simple.

"It's because we're not going very far in the playoffs," said Johnson. "If I can't win a Stanley Cup, I might as well try and win a gold medal. I have fun here - a lot of these guys I grew up playing with and have known for a long time.

"I don't have a wife and kid or anything and I love playing hockey."

It came as no surprise Johnson was named an alternate captain of the American team.

"I think he's a great example for all of the American players," said U.S. coach Scott Gordon. "When the call went out to him, his first words were 'What time am I going?' I've been a part of this now for three years and the Olympics also, and just being around him and how passionate he is about playing the game, that's the type of player you want to have on your team.

"He sets a great example for all of our players."

USEFUL VERMETTE: Ken Hitchcock should have an extra forward at his disposal when Canada faces the U.S. on Friday.

Centre Antoine Vermette is expected to make his debut at the tournament after missing the first three games with a minor knee injury. He won't be asked to do too much.

"I think right now we'd kind of ease him in," said Hitchcock. "We'd use him a lot on (penalty killing) and stuff like that. But if we could get eight to 10 minutes out of him that would be great. We'll see how it goes.

"We could really use his help killing penalties, especially taking faceoffs on the left side of the ice."

SMILE, MARC: The Canadian team posed for their official photo prior to Thursday's practice.

One smile that stood out belonged to defenceman Marc Methot, who is sporting a big gap in his mouth. He painfully lost a tooth on the top row after getting hit with a puck last summer and has come to enjoy the new look.

"It's synonymous with me I think," said Methot. "Guys are just used to seeing me without it. I had the opportunity to put one in last summer and I just got used to not having one. I think I'll wait until I'm towards the tail end of my career before I throw another one in there."

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