‘I know it’s dumb not to wear it’

Just a small group of vi­sor-less play­ers re­main­ing in NHL

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - SPORTS - KYLE CICERELLA

TORONTO — Van­cou­ver de­fence­man Erik Gud­bran­son is part of a dwin­dling group of play­ers in the NHL that still chooses to play with­out a vi­sor.

Not even a bro­ken or­bital bone in his sec­ond sea­son could con­vince him to start wear­ing one.

“I got a puck in the face and caved that in. So I’ve got a me­tal plate hold­ing it to­gether now. Def­i­nitely an, ‘Oh (crap) mo­ment,’ ” said Gud­bran­son.

“I know it’s dumb not to wear it. I’ll be the first one to tell you it’s dumb. Hon­estly, it is. I don’t have a good ex­pla­na­tion as to why I don’t wear it (other than) it’s a com­fort thing.”

Based on ros­ters handed in by the 31 teams at Tues­day’s dead­line, only 34 out of 640 to­tal skaters listed for the 2017-18 sea­son will play with­out a pro­tec­tive shield.

That means 94 per cent of NHL play­ers are now wear­ing one, an in­crease from the 73 per cent that wore them only four years ago be­fore the league moved to­ward mak­ing them manda­tory start­ing with the 2013-14 sea­son.

The NHL and the NHL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion agreed in the sum­mer of 2013 that play­ers with less than 26 games of ex­pe­ri­ence would have to play with a shield when they reached the league — as they did with hel­mets in 1979. It took 18 years for ev­ery player in the league to wear a hel­met. The last player with­out one, Craig Mac­Tavish, re­tired in 1997.

The NHL has also started crack­ing down on how a player wears his vi­sor, with Toronto for­ward Leo Ko­marov be­ing handed a mi­nor penalty for equip­ment vi­o­la­tion in Wed­nes­day’s sea­son opener against Win­nipeg. The of­fi­cials, who warned him in pre-sea­son to wear it prop­erly, pe­nal­ized him for hav­ing it too high on his hel­met.

“They told me it’s for safety.” Ko­marov said in train­ing camp.

Gud­bran­son broke into the league in 2011 with Florida wear­ing a vi­sor but de­cided to take it off, “be­cause I’m a knuck­le­head and I thought I was tough.”

He’s been told by just about ev­ery­one he knows to wear one.

“My mom’s go­ing to read this ar­ti­cle and she’s go­ing to rake me through the coals,” he said. “My girl­friend’s on me about it, even my broth­ers and sis­ter are on me about it. I know I need to do it.

“When I came into the league, even though it wasn’t that long ago, it was a bit dif­fer­ent. A lot less guys were wear­ing vi­sors at that point in time. There were prob­a­bly 10 guys on each team that weren’t wear­ing them.”

Ev­ery player with­out a vi­sor has their rea­son, re­gard­less of the role they play.

Cal­gary’s Tan­ner Glass is the only player on the Flames not wear­ing a vi­sor. He’s played that way since 2007.

“Much to my mom’s cha­grin it will stay that way I guess,” said the 33-year-old. “I wore it in the mi­nors a lit­tle bit last year and it felt weird. I pre­fer it off.

“I feel like I’m more into the game. Feel the wind in your face.”

Ottawa’s Zack Smith said an equip­ment mishap at his first train­ing camp in 2008 helped in his de­ci­sion mak­ing. He’s played close to 500 games with­out one.

“My first de­vel­op­ment camp I got my equip­ment and I didn’t have a vi­sor. I didn’t ask them not to give me one and it turned out I was the only guy who didn’t get one so it was like ‘who’s the new guy with no vi­sor? He must be re­ally tough.’ But mean­while I was scared, and then I just never wore one.”

Win­nipeg for­ward Shawn Matthias, en­ter­ing his 11th sea­son in the league, started prac­tis­ing with a vi­sor and plans to keep it.

“I played with­out a vi­sor for a long time. I’ve taken pucks to the eye­brows, I’ve taken sticks up high, I’ve had some close calls,” said Matthias.

“I’m get­ting older now, I’m go­ing to be 30 this sea­son. My pri­or­i­ties are a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than how I was when I was younger. ”It’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent, but I think in the long run it’s a lot safer. Now at this stage of my ca­reer, it’s about longevity and play­ing as long as pos­si­ble. I would hate for some­thing to hap­pen that I could have pre­vented.”

Wear­ing one comes at a price, though.

“It’s not the same,” Matthias said. “You do have a sheet of glass in front of your eyes. It gets fogged up, it gets wet. That’s just a lit­tle frus­trat­ing. Per­son­ally, I do pre­fer not wear­ing a vi­sor.”

At 25 years old, Gud­bran­son is the youngest player in the league with­out a vi­sor and could po­ten­tially by the last one to play in the league with­out one. Zdeno Chara of Bos­ton is the old­est of the bunch at 40 while the ma­jor­ity are older than 30.

“There’s a few guys around,” said Glass. “I’m not the Craig Mac­Tavish yet.” — With files from Joshua Clipperton in Van­cou­ver, Donna Spencer in Cal­gary, Judy Owen in Win­nipeg and Lisa Wal­lace in Ottawa

JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Van­cou­ver de­fence­man Erik Gud­bran­son, left, tries to clear Ari­zona cen­tre Martin Han­zal from in front of the Canucks’ net last sea­son. Gud­bran­son is part of a dwin­dling group of play­ers in the NHL that still chooses to play with­out a vi­sor.

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