Visors are the smart choice

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

The sad truth about Mats Sundin is he is damn lucky his career isn't over.

It was that close.

It was that fortunate for him.

Three weeks -- or however long he is out with a fractured orbital bone below his left eye -- is a small price to pay for yet another example of hockey recklessness.

Another example for a game and a National Hockey League and an alleged players' association that continues to champion choice over safety.

Sundin took a puck below the eye on Wednesday night against the visiting Ottawa Senators.

It was a fluke, an accident, part of the game, they shrug. A quarter-inch higher and we may be telling a tragic story today. In this case, the bone absorbed the impact of the puck. His eye, a specialist pointed out yesterday, would not have been so forgiving.

Sundin fell to the ice seven minutes in to a brand new season in a frightening moment of pain and confusion. The first thing he thought about was Bryan Berard.

He wasn't alone.

"My mind was racing," Leafs winger Darcy Tucker said. "I was on the ice when Bryan got hurt. Eyes are a precious thing. I really hate this. I really do."

Tucker doesn't wear a visor when he plays.

Berard almost lost an eye while playing for the Leafs.

Now, Sundin twice has been in a position where his eye has been hurt in a hockey-related event. The scorecard over the past few seasons has not been encouraging: Berard, Sundin, Tucker, Owen Nolan -- their eyes threatened in the name of individual choice.

All of them hurt because they refused to properly protect themselves.

The NHL says it is in favour of implementing a rule -- in conjunction with its close friends at the NHL Players' Association -- that would mandate eye protection in the league. The league has said that before and refused to implement it without agreement.

The matter actually came up in the recent collective bargaining talks. The NHLPA didn't object to mandatory eye protection -- only a majority of its members did.

So what did Maple Leafs rookie Carlo Colaiacovo do on Tuesday? He decided he no longer needed to play with a visor, which may explain why the Leafs chose to send him back to the Marlies yesterday.

Never mind his playing ability, it may be his ability to think that they have to be concerned about.

When asked about what affect the Sundin injury would have on him, Colaiacovo said: "Probably won't influence me."

And you have to wonder why it has taken this long, why there have been this many injuries for the game, the owners, the insurance companies, the general managers, the fans, and yes, even the players, to come up with some kind of reasonable alternative to an obvious concern.

"I played in an era that had no helmet," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "We did it because that's the way we did it."

That is old-time logic.

When Pat Quinn played in the NHL, there was no such thing as seatbelt legislation, no regulations regarding child car seats, drinking and driving wasn't necessarily taboo, cigarette smoking was in vogue and why bother using condoms?

But times change, people progress. No construction company in the world would allow an employee to go without a helmet on a job site. Why should Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. be on the hook to pay Sundin $83,414 US per game when the player himself made the choice not to wear protection?

"I would still rather have the choice," said Eric Lindros, the new first-line centre until further notice. "I know it's smart to wear (a visor). I just don't like it. I still can't see out of them."

Bryan Berard wears a visor, and he can't see out of one of his eyes, either.

Mats Sundin, bruised badly below a closed left eye, soon will be wearing eye protection when he plays. Probably for the rest of his career.

This accident scared him, scared him a lot.

It should scare everyone.

Instead, typically, hockey shrugs and life, however myopic, goes on.


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