When Eric Staal took a stick in the face Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Carolina Hurricanes captain suffered a chipped tooth and a cut on the bridge of his nose. The blade came close to hitting him in his right eye.
Staal's near-miss again underscored an undeniable fact: playing hockey without a helmet visor often is risky business.
Visors are not mandatory in the NHL, and Staal said he will not wear one. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, in contrast, said he could not imagine playing without one.
"I wear a visor because there's no reason not to wear one," Toews said Friday.
In the NHL, where helmets were not mandated until 1979, the use of a visor remains a personal choice even as the league and NHL Players Association look for ways to improve player safety.
"I've heard about it from my mom and my wife, but I'm so used to not wearing (a visor) now," Staal said Monday. "It's been so long now that I think putting one on would definitely be an adjustment. I wore them in the Olympics because it's mandatory, but I wasn't totally comfortable with it."
In a game last week, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, who does not use a visor, was hit in the right eye by the stick of Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski. Pronger has blurred vision and his return to the Flyers' lineup is uncertain.
The Flyers have said Pronger will not be cleared to play again unless he wears a visor, but the veteran player and future Hall of Famer has not committed to doing it.
On the league's radar
Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday the subject of visors has been discussed in league meetings and could be on the agenda again for the NHL meetings next month. The safety issue hits particularly close to home with the Canes: both head coach Paul Maurice and assistant general manager Jason Karmanos suffered serious eye injuries playing hockey.
Maurice was 18 when a puck hit his stick and ricocheted into his eye. Just like that, his playing career was over.
"I've always been surprised there aren't more eye injuries with the rate of speed of the puck and the battles with the sticks," Maurice said.
Maurice said he saw the replay of Pronger's injury, calling it "eerily reminiscent" of his own.
"When I got hit it was dead quiet in the building and the only guy screaming was me," he said.
At the same time, Maurice noted, "I think it's very difficult to take professional athletes and tell them what they need to wear to play the game."
Junior players in the Canadian Hockey League wear the shields. College players have protection, wearing full cages. Visors are mandatory in the American Hockey League.
"It makes sense to be as protected as you can," Maurice said. "But if you've never worn one and put one on, it's a different feeling. You're in a different room."
A matter of pride
Players prone to the rough stuff, to getting in fights, generally do not wear visors - in Carolina's case, players such as defensemen Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen and Jay Harrison.
"There are certain guys who play a role who aren't excited about putting that visor on because they get chirped at if they get into a fight," Maurice said.
But Canes defenseman Tomas Kaberle, never considered a fighter, has not worn a visor in the NHL even though he's often in the line of fire when pucks are fired at the net.
"Sometimes it saves you and sometimes not," Kaberle said. "It's a fast game and things happen you don't want to see happen. Pucks jump in your face, things like that, and players get hurt. But it's a player's decision at the end of the day."
Canes forward Chad LaRose, for example, said he once took a slapshot squarely in the face but goes without a visor, saying, "It's just not my style."
Toews, 23, said he has taken pucks in the mouth, on the chin. That's part of being hockey player. But the use of a visor, for him, has never been in question.
"You see a lot of cases where guys without a visor get hit in the face and then start wearing one," Toews said. "They realize what it can actually do for you and do it for that extra protection.
"The most important thing is your head. There are freak accidents where sticks hit you in the eye and visors can make a big difference in that."
Toews made that comment Friday after the Blackhawks' morning skate at the RBC Center. Hours later, after a faceoff, Staal was hit in the face by the stick of Hawks forward Dan Carcillo.
"It came up pretty quick," said Staal, who has a black eye. "It's one of those plays that happens real quick, especially on faceoffs when you're down low fighting for the puck."
It's all a part of hockey's risky business.