Eye Safety in Hockey

Eye Safety in Hockey banner

In Canada, hockey-related eye injuries are common – mainly due to the sport’s popularity. Risks associated with hockey include flying sticks or pucks that travel at speeds up to 100 km/hr

Mandatory Face Protection

Face masks for hockey players were introduced in 1971 and soon became mandatory in amateur leagues. Since then there has been a steady decline in the number of eye injuries from hockey.  hockey helmetDr. Tom Pashby, an ophthalmologist and sports safety activist helped develop the face mask and visor and introduce the helmet into the Canadian Hockey League. His interest in player safety began in 1959 when his son suffered a concussion during a house league hockey game. Following this incident, Pashby made it his mission to see helmets become mandatory for all players.

In 1980, Hockey Canada was the first league to make face protection certified by the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) a mandatory requirement for all of its registered players.

Currently there are more than 500,000 players registered with Hockey Canada, which includes 108,714 children who play in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association. All minor league and female players who are registered with Hockey Canada are required to wear full face masks every time they are on the ice. All other players are required to wear CSA-certified face protection, whether they are face masks or visors.

Several other leagues have adopted the same rule, the most recent being the American Hockey League, which made visors mandatory in the 2006-2007 season. The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association have yet to impose a similar rule, leaving the use of visors and face masks up to the players.

The Visor Debate

The use of visors by players in the NHL has been a heated debate that arises every time a player suffers an eye injury. Many players feel the use of visors has an impact on their game and restricts their vision, affecting their timing during play. However, recent player statistics show some of the top scoring leaders in the NHL wear visors.

“The majority of our members feel that wearing a visor is a matter of individual preference. We respect and support their right to make a personal choice. The NHLPA continues to educate our members so that they are able to make informed health and equipment related decisions.”
- NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon

Players also complain about visors that fog or scratch too easily or are difficult to attach to their helmet. However, since the introduction of face protection 30 years ago, the design of face masks and visors has improved considerably, and so have the products used to maintain this equipment. New visors are created to be fog and scratch resistant, and lens wipes can clean mask and visor surfaces quickly and effectively.

Photo of Steve Yzerman's injury “Sitting in the hospital that night, I really wished I’d been wearing a visor. I played 21 years and never had an eye injury… The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I don’t want to lose my eyesight.’ I really believe guys should be wearing them. I didn’t say that a week ago.”
- NHL player Steve Yzerman on the eye injury he suffered during the 2003-2004 playoff season
Photo source: The Canadian Press (John F. Marin)

The biggest barrier that remains today is the stigma associated with using visors and face masks. Many players choose not to use them for fear of being seen as weak or cowardly. Unfortunately, the perception remains that players who wear visors are “hiding.” In reality, they are better able to take risks and play to their full ability. 

Sending the Right Message

When adults do not wear a face mask or visor, it sends the wrong message to children who play hockey.  full hockey visorChildren look up to and idolize professional hockey players, and when they see them not wearing a visor, they are reluctant to do so themselves, leading to preventable eye injuries.

Parents should play an active role in encouraging their children to wear eye protection on the ice.

Choosing not to wear protective eye gear has been shown to increase the risk of serious vision loss. The question every player – professional, amateur or recreational – needs to ask themselves is, is it worth the risk?