Study: No visor? Eye injuries four times higher

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Outside the hockey world, puck talk rarely gets any further than the water cooler. But for fellow fantasy hockey leaguers Jonathan Micieli and Ike Ahmed, passion met profession after Marc Staal suffered a retinal tear and orbital fracture last season when he was struck by a slapshot.

Micieli is an ophthalmology resident and Ahmed an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto. When Staal’s injuries reignited the visor debate, Micieli and Ahmed realized there was a dearth of detailed research into the risk of eye injuries in the NHL. So the duo teamed up with David Zurakowski from Harvard Medical School for their recent study, “Do Visors Have an Impact on Eye Injuries? A 10-year Review of the National Hockey League.” Using media reports and videos, the three identified 149 eye injuries over the past 10 seasons, which resulted in more than $33 million of salary in missed games, and found the risk is more than four times higher for players who don’t wear a visor. “The most interesting thing is that visor use is increasing…but statistically speaking we can’t say there was a huge, significant drop in the number of eye injuries over those 10 years,” Micieli said. “The trend is declining but not as much as we had expected.”

So despite visor use growing from 32 percent in 2002-03 to 73 percent last season, there hasn’t been a correspondingly precipitous drop in eye injuries, just a gradual decline. The report cites nine in 2012-13, which prorates to 15 over a full season – exactly the annual average since 2007-08, though the number is down overall from the 23 in 2002-03.

The NHL and Players’ Association agreed to grandfather mandatory visor use into the league, requiring all players with fewer than 26 career NHL games to wear a visor starting this season. Yet even wearing a visor doesn’t guarantee complete protection. Micieli and his colleagues found that more than 20 percent of eye injuries were to players that wore a visor. Among their other findings: players who don’t wear a visor are substantially more aggressive in nature. In fact, according to their study, shield-free NHLers average three times more penalty minutes, almost twice as many hits and seven times more fights than players wearing visors.

While Micieli and Ahmed vie for their fantasy league title – Micieli is well behind his co-author – they’re already planning follow-up research to assess the protection of different types of visors.

“The next trend is going to be three-quarters versus half (shields),” Micieli said. “It’s hard, but it would be a good thing to study. That’s going to be the trend eventually, because there are eye injuries that still happen with half visors.”

Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blogFollow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 20, 2014 edition of The Hockey News magazine. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe now.