Bryan Berard, Al MacInnis, Ian Laperriere, Manny Malhotra, Chris Pronger, Marc Staal. See a thread? All of them suffered severe eye injuries, some of which wound up as career-enders. No one in the group was wearing a visor.
Follow the thread further: each was born in North America.
That’s no mere coincidence. According to a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine, evidence suggests there’s a strong cultural undercurrent that determines whether or not a player is likely to wear a visor.
In their article, “Factors influencing visor use among players in the NHL,” co-authors Robert Micieli, a biomedical student at York University, and brother Jonathan, an ophthalmology resident at the University of Toronto, found that 88.4 percent of European-born NHLers wear visors, compared to 75.7 for American-born and 68.6 for Canadian-born players. Swedes (90.5) were tops, followed by Russians (89.5), Finns (86.7) and Czechs (84.6).
“Among NHL players, it is generally considered respectful as part of the unwritten ‘code’ for aggressive players not to use a visor if they aim to play an aggressive game,” the Micieli brothers wrote. “Consequently, Canadian players, who are generally considered to represent a more physical style of play compared to Europeans, may feel pressure to play without a visor. Moreover, European players may have had earlier role models in the game who influenced them to play with a visor.”
The study covered players on active rosters as of Nov. 13, excluding those with fewer than 26 NHL games since they’re mandated to wear visors.
Age appears to be a significant factor, too. Among players younger than 24, 90.6 percent wore a visor, compared to 62.8 percent of veterans 34 or older.
Overall, though, players are getting the message to protect their eyes. In The Hockey News’ annual sight survey, visor users increased to 80 percent league-wide. The survey covered all skaters with 20 or more games played. The New Jersey Devils top the list at 91 percent.