September 21, 2012

From NEHJ: Debating visors vs. cages

By Bill Keefe

As the NCAA moved closer over the summer to allowing players to wear visors rather than full cages, New England Hockey Journal surveyed four former junior players who have worn both to learn of their experiences and opinions. 

Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) wears the full cage for BC. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Two players — Chris Kreider and Charlie Coyle — are now in the pro ranks, and two — Bill Arnold and Connor Brickley — are starting their junior seasons in college.

All four players were in agreement that they would always play with at least a half shield; they were not comfortable playing with a helmet only.

All four also were in agreement about their preference for the visor over the full cage, but Kreider and Arnold were more indifferent. They both said they were fine wearing whatever was required, while Coyle and Brickley were stronger in their support for the visor.

The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee is collecting data, reviewing current technology and working with the Competitive Safeguards Committee as part of a process to decide on allowing players to wear three-quarter visors. The NCAA referenced its own survey stating that 83 percent of 1,000 student-athletes questioned preferred to wear the visor.

Since 1978, NCAA players have worn a full cage. However, a significant number of players are coming from junior leagues where they already have worn a visor and then have to wear the full cage in college. Additionally, like all four of the players NEHJ surveyed, some players wear visors in the offseason at a pro camp and during the season at the World Junior Championship, only to return to the full cage with a college team.

Barring an NHL work stoppage, Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) is heading to Minnesota Wild camp this month gunning for a roster spot. If not, he will play in the American Hockey League. Just last year, he wore a full cage for half the season with Boston University, wore the visor for his second stint with the U.S. National Junior Team and then continued to wear the visor when he joined the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs and helped them reach the Memorial Cup semifinals.

“I don’t mind the half shield,” Coyle said. “Obviously, it’s a little more dangerous. It’s easier to see with the half shield than the cage with bars hanging out in front of your face.”

Coyle said he would not go so far as to play without any facial protection.

He said his first time trying out a visor was at the National Junior Team Evaluation Camp in 2010 before the 2011 World Junior Championship. Last year at Minnesota’s camp, he had his lone incident with the visor when another player went to lift his stick, missed and instead got his nose.

He agreed with the premise that playing with something less than a full cage brings more responsibility on the ice. 

While with Team USA, Bill Arnold sported the visor. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

“You have to control your stick more,” Coyle said. “You’ve got to play more safe in the corners.”

Last season, Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) went from wearing a visor at New York Rangers rookie camp, to a full cage for Boston College’s national championship run back to a visor when he joined the Rangers’ playoff run. He agreed with Coyle about the visor adding some level of caution to the game.

“When you have the cage, there’s more running around; you feel invincible,” Kreider said. “When you have the half shield, you’re not throwing yourself around like a torpedo. It’s more controlled. There’s more skill to the game.”

Kreider said that when he started with the Rangers, he wanted some type of protection for his eyes and didn’t hesitate to grab a visor. He had worn the visor at World Juniors and liked it, but added, “I wear whatever I’m told to wear. I’m pretty indifferent.”

With a cage, Kreider said, there is the chance it pops up and catches your chin, but with a visor the risk is there for a cut from a stick.

Kreider’s experience has shown him other pros and cons to the visor and cage.

“I like using the shield,” Kreider said. “I felt like I could see the ice at times better. And when I tried to grow facial hair at the end of the year, there’s nothing there so it’s easier to get at when it’s itchy. The half shield promotes the proper way to hit, to keep your hands down.

“Some guys find the shield fogs up. I’ve heard of some guys who have broken an orbital bone or their jaw that have worn a full shield don’t want to go back to the half.”

In the end, Kreider said he would wear either, but he always would wear something.

Entering his junior year at Vermont, Brickley has worn a half shield in the USHL, at the World Juniors and at Florida Panthers camp and makes it clear that is his preference.

“It’s easier to play with the half shield,” Brickley (Everett, Mass.) said. “You see a lot more. It’s more clear when you have the shield on, but you definitely get hit in the face more playing the body and get a lot more scrapes.”

In the USHL, once a player turns 18, he has the option of using a half shield. Brickley didn’t hesitate. He remembers the first game he wore it. He went to hit an opponent behind the net and ran into a linemate, causing a tooth to rip through his bottom lip.

“It was a pretty cool experience,” Brickley said. “You get some nice scars along the way.”

Nonetheless, Brickley is a believer in the visor.

“In juniors, guys watch their hands,” Brickley said. “You start hitting people in the head, they get angry and there’s an option to fight. People definitely watch their sticks more. There’s less high sticking and fewer head penalties.”

Arnold (Needham, Mass.) will be a junior at Boston College this season and has worn the visor at the World Juniors and at Calgary Flames camp. He said he is fine wearing both forms of facial protection, and he takes the same approach to the game wearing either.

“It definitely helps with the vision,” Arnold said. “You feel more free if that’s the right word to describe it. You’re definitely more aware there’s no protection up there.

“If you’re going to block a shot, you’re more cautious to look away when you go down. But I didn’t notice myself playing any differently. It didn’t keep me from trying to block a shot or trying to rough it up. It doesn’t hinder the way you go about things at all.”

Like the others, Arnold said he always would use at least the half shield, even during more-relaxed summer play.

As the NCAA looks to relax its rule to allow visors, which all the players here supported, there is a push in the NHL to mandate visors. However, a recent Hockey News survey found only three rookies went without any type of facial protection while about 70 percent of all players were wearing visors.

As the opinions here reflect, younger players that have grown up playing with cages don’t appear interested in dropping all facial protection. An NHL rule to require visors could become moot as the trend continues to grow.

Around juniors

Six native New Englanders were among the 40 players selected to play in the inaugural All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo on Sept. 29.

The six players are all forwards: Quebec Rempart Adam Erne (North Branford, Conn.), Valley Junior Warrior Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), U.S. Under-18’s Tyler Kelleher (Longmeadow, Mass.), Lincoln Star Ross Olsson (Billerica, Mass.), Harvard’s Devin Tringale (Medford, Mass.) and Boston College’s Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.). …

Five area players remained on the 34-man roster that finished the National Junior Team Evaluation Camp: goaltender Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine), defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), and forwards Colin Blackwell (North Andover, Mass.), Jim Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) and Jon Gaudreau. (Boston College). …

Shane Eiserman (West Newbury, Mass.) will join Kelleher, goalie Curtis Frye (Northwood, N.H.) and forward John Hayden (Greenwich, Conn.) on the U.S. Under-18 team this season. Eiserman posted an 18-26-44 line in 30 games for Cushing last season.

The Under-18s make one New England swing this season, coming to Merrimack on Dec. 8 and UNH on Dec. 9. …

The Under-17 team features forward Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.) and defensemen Ryan Bliss (Bedford, N.H.) and Jonathan MacLeod (Dracut, Mass.). …

J.D. Dudek (Auburn, N.H.) scored three goals, including two game-winners, as the U.S. Under-17 Selects went 4-0 to win the Five Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic. Ryan Donato (Scituate, Mass.) had an assist. The United States outscored its opponents 20-6, defeating Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Slovakia by at least two goals apiece. …

Erne had a pair of two-goal, one-assist games in earning two U.S. Player of the Game nods, but the U.S. Under-18 Selects finished 1-3 to take seventh place at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Erne had one other goal to finish with seven points. His second 2-1-3 game came in the Americans’ 5-3 win against Slovakia. Corey Ronan (Franklin, Mass.) posted a goal in the tournament.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Bill Keefe can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.