June 11, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Battle to Switch to Half Shields Gains New Life

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

For at least a couple of decades, the college hockey coaches have been essentially unanimous in their disapproval of full face shields or visors.

First mandated in 1980-81 by the NCAA, the idea was to help prevent serious facial injuries. But coaches have long thought that it also made players more reckless, feeling they were invincible. That recklessness, the theory goes, has actually led to the opposite of invincible — making players more at risk for serious head injuries.

Time and again, however, college coaches were turned away, with NCAA committees fearing liability issues and genuine concern over safety.

The idea has picked up steam again recently, however, because of two reasons: changes in the technology that makes change more viable, and the ability to up the lobbying intensity thanks to the formation of College Hockey Inc.

Paul Kelly, president of College Hockey Inc., brought the proposal to the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee. The committee decided against adding the change to its package of proposed changes. But it did agree to seriously study the issue finally.

"It's not on the backburner, but something that will be actively studied," Kelly said. "It's not just a technology issue, but now we have an entity with College Hockey Inc. that's here to market and raise the profile of the sport, and look for ways to improve it. Our view is that the time has come to make the change, and we've taken the lead in marshalling the arguments."

The Rules Committee said, "The committee identified the need for additional scientific data before a formal proposal can be forwarded to the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sport."

Kelly said the data so far is promising. The USHL has used half-shields for 10 years, and 65-70 percent of the players use it, Kelly said.

"There has not been a serious eye or facial injury," Kelly said. "So I do think the data will be telling."

Things like concussion rates and dental injuries will be studied closely in the leagues that currently use half shields.

"That info will get pulled together," Kelly said. "We may consider possibly using visors in college exhibition games to get feedback from players and coaches.

"The technology is far better now than ever. Visors have proven extremely effective. They mandated full shields in 1980-81. It was intended to protect the eyes. ... But now we have visors that are very effective. There is a lot of data out there. There's no enhanced risk of concussion. ... Times have evolved, the technology has evolved. It's time to take a fresh look."

One area that helps Kelly contend with NCAA issues — and a big reason why he was given the leadership reins of College Hockey Inc. — is his background as an attorney.

"Not just an attorney, but I spent many years defending companies in product liability and wrongful death cases," Kelly said.

The most outspoken proponent of switching to half shields is Boston University coach Jack Parker, who has spoken about the idea for two decades, but had all but given up.

“I think it’s insanity that we don’t. The full shield is not the safest way to play,” Parker told the Boston Herald recently. “One, kids think their equipment is made in heaven. Two, you don’t have anywhere near the peripheral vision that you need with the full mask. Hockey players get blind-sided a lot, and a big reason is they don’t have the peripheral vision because of the full shield.

"The reason they put (the full shield) in was to protect the eyes and the teeth, but the half-shield will protect the eyes. I’d rather end up losing a tooth than (be) in a wheelchair."

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