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A Ref's Life: Visor vision

Linesman Brian Murphy looks on as Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks looks for one more fight. (Photo by Kim Stallknecht/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Linesman Brian Murphy looks on as Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks looks for one more fight. (Photo by Kim Stallknecht/NHLI via Getty Images)

“The bottom line is, I tell people who don’t wear visors – mostly when I go speak to amateur officials in the U.S., because visors are not mandatory there – you have to realize you’re not faster than the puck.” – NHL linesman Brian Murphy.

To wear a visor or not to wear a visor? That is the question. It may seem like a no-brainer to some, but when you’re used to the view and feel of the game without one, it can be hard to make the switch.

In the latest issue of THN, we discovered a new trend: 65 percent of NHL players younger than 30 wear a visor, whereas only 45 percent of players 30 and older use the protection. Visors aren’t mandatory at the NHL level yet, but it’s clear a natural progression is taking place.

The changeover for referees has been a little different. Up until 2006 some officials were allowed to go helmetless and it’s easy to remember the days when Kerry Fraser’s hair was a talking point every time he took to the ice. Unlike the players, who are employed by their teams, referees are employed by the league and the evolution was a little slower.

But when the two sides sat down for collective bargaining four years ago, the league decided it was time to ramp up safety and mandate helmets for everyone.

“The league wanted the guys to wear helmets and visors,” said NHL linesman Brian Murphy. “That was a safety issue and I think we would look foolish fighting the league on a safety issue.”

It was rather easy to convince the officials’ association to adopt helmets for all its members, but they felt it was important to provide the veterans with a choice regarding visors.

Sightlines and having a clear view of the play are of utmost importance to refs, so while they look out for each other’s safety, they also have to make sure everyone is comfortable in their climate.

The American League and all of Canada’s junior leagues had already adopted mandatory visors for their officials, so any new refs to the NHL would be familiar with the equipment. However, it was more of an undertaking for the NHL vets, so both sides felt it best to grandfather in the rule. Any official who started after 2006 now wears a visor, but any official who was in the NHL before then has the right to choose.

“The guys who hadn’t worn it in the past were just not comfortable wearing it,” Murphy explained. “The new guys who were used to it, it’s no real change for them, but it was for our guys.”

Of course, some of the vets have decided to make the safety change since.

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When we explored some of the vicious injuries suffered by officials it was clear that close calls can inspire a change of heart. Steve Miller donned a visor for about a year after getting dinged in the face, but shortly after he took it off again he witnessed Don Van Massenhoven get hit in a similar fashion, so Miller put the protection back on. Van Massenhoven himself has worn a visor since his incident.

While Murphy hasn’t suffered an injury as serious as Miller or Van Massenhoven, he had a few close calls in 2008 and decided to put on the visor the after getting a little push from his kids.

“They made some points to me around the kitchen table and I felt they were right and safety was important,” Murphy said. “It’s funny, since I put it on I don’t feel like I’ve had any close calls. I know when the play is around me I’m not turning my head as much. I have that safety with the visor now.”

And what about the difference in how he sees the game? The biggest argument against the visor is how it changes feel and the perception it could make someone miss something in their peripheral vision. However, Murphy’s experience put the kibosh on that myth.

“I don’t notice any difference in being able to see the play whatsoever; the technology is so much better,” he said. “And I don’t think it affects my performance one bit.”

The safety measure probably would have come in handy for Murphy had he donned the visor earlier. And it’s hard to imagine going back to exposing his face.

“I’ve been nicked for a few stitches over my career; I mean, 23 years, you run into some issues,” he said. “Clearly the visor would have helped me a couple of times, but it was just a case of a lot of close calls the previous season that really motivated me to do it. Just close plays where the puck was going by your face – and when it goes by that closely you notice it.”

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Tuesdays and his feature 'A Ref's Life' appears every other Thursday.

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