Two National Hockey League referees have suffered serious facial injuries in the first month of play, firing up the same debate about mandatory visors as in the players' ranks.
Don Koharski took a puck in the face in a game in Phoenix early last week and damaged his orbital bone, while Rob Martell has been sidelined since early in the schedule with a puck that struck just above the eye that still is causing him vision problems. There have been close calls elsewhere through the first 170 games.
"We've had a few scares," NHL senior vice-president and director of officiating Stephen Walkom said yesterday. "Don was fortunate in that he required just seven to nine stitches. He's doing well and he has gone home to take it easy a few days. He should be good to go in games next week.
Koharski, 50, has worked more than 1,500 games, second most to Kerry Fraser among active officials.
Martell, who is from Winnipeg, has worked close to 370 games. He's waiting to see if he will have any lingering problems with his eyesight.
"There's blood in his eye, but he's improved to the stage where he can read a chart," Walkom said.
With players armed with one-piece sticks that not only shoot harder, but can be wielded with more force because of their light weight, the rink has become dangerous for all those on skates.
Walkom guesses only about one-third of nearly 70 refs and linesmen use visors. As with the players, it's a matter of personal choice and comfort, although all new officials and all those working in the American Hockey League must wear one.
It has put former ref Walkom in a tough spot.
"I'll sound like a hypocrite in regard to safety, because I didn't wear one," Walkom said.
"But we played hockey games at our training camp and we all wore visors. With the way the puck travels and with all those unpredictable deflections in front ... I would like to see everyone on our team have the best protection. It has to be (collectively bargained). One day I'd like to see a decision."
Walkom acknowledged how tough the battle was to make helmets mandatory in the late 1980s, with Fraser among the final three converts this past summer.