CBC MARKETPLACE: HEALTH » HOCKEY
Hockey face masks aren't infallible
Broadcast: February 20, 2001 |
Producer: Richard Wright; Researcher: Leonardo Palleja
concussions, leading to permanent disability, are a growing
Bryan Berard seemed to have the world on a string a year
ago. He was young and had a gift for playing defence on
hockey rinks a mainstay on the Toronto Maple Leaf
Berard's future imploded when he was struck in the eye by
a stick in a game against Ottawa.
Several operations and a year later Berard
has regained a fraction of the vision in the injured eye.
But he's no closer to returning to the National Hockey League.
Berard's injury brought the issue of face protection to the
forefront of the hockey world yet again. The league won't
change its rules to force players to wear visors. Only a few
this story first aired on Marketplace, the
Canadian Hockey Association alerted players and coaches
to make sure all sticks carry enough tape to prevent
the butt end from passing through the grid of a mask.
And the CSA has set up a task force to review facemask
In minor hockey, much more has been done to protect our children.
Great strides have been taken to ensure that kids playing
hockey are as safe as they can be. There are non-contact rules
for young players, serious penalties for hitting from behind,
and better and safer equipment.
But some parents believe we can do better still.
There are no national statistics on facial injuries to young
players and some hockey experts insist they are rare.
The Canadian Hockey Association requires all players to
wear a full-face protector while they are on the ice, until
they are 17 years old. The CHA, the organization that runs
minor hockey in Canada, says the rule is enough to prevent
Hockey dad John
Muise was stunned when he learned that a taped stick could penetrate
hockey face mask
John Muise is a dedicated hockey dad. His son, Steven, wears
number 16 for the Ajax Knights, a major Pee Wee A team.
The 13-year-old player keeps his skills sharp in the off-season
by playing roller hockey.
Last summer, Steven was hurt when a stick went through his
mask and cut him near his eye.
When John Muise heard about his son's injury, he said it
"At first I said it can't, the mask is made so the stick
won't penetrate it," Muise remembers. "You shouldn't
have gotten cut. I don't know how it happened."
Muise was injured playing roller hockey when a stick penetrated
Later, Muise tried to poke an un-taped stick through his
son's mask. He was stunned when it went right through the
Marketplace tests 8 masks
Marketplace went with Muise to a sports store to
test other masks. We found that the un-taped end of a stick
passed through all of the grid style masks commonly available.
The Canadian Hockey Association, which writes the rules governing
safety protection for young players, requires the end of the
stick to be covered "to prevent injury." Most hockey
sticks either have a custom-made knob of tape on the end,
or a mass-produced rubber tip.
Marketplace tested several
masks. Sticks penetrated some of them, even when they
were taped. Two went through the facemask even with
a rubber stopper at the end.
We tried our test once again with a stick that had its end
taped, so CHA specifications. It also penetrated many of the
The third stage of our test involved using a stick that had
the mass produced rubber stopper at the end of the stick.
It was a little larger than the taped stick, but still went
through two of eight masks we tested.
Todd Jackson oversees safety rules for the Canadian Hockey
Association. He concedes that there will be cases where a
taped stick will go through a mask. He agrees that that could
be a problem. He notes, though, that the standard for hockey
masks has been drafted by the CSA. He says as long as a mask
meets the CSA standard, it is legal equipment for players
covered by the Canadian Hockey Association.
Dr. Tom Pashby is credited
as the person who persuaded minor hockey officials to
make face masks mandatory
Hockey facemasks have been around for more than a quarter
of a century. Dr. Tom Pashby is credited as being the person
who persuaded minor hockey officials to make facemasks mandatory
for young players.
Pashby is an ophthalmologist, and he led
the CSA committee that drafted the current standard for
hockey facemasks. The first facemask standard was written
in the mid 1970s, and it worked.
"Last year for instance I only had eleven reports of
eye injuries and one blind eye," Pashby told Marketplace.
"In the 1974-75 season, I had forty-three blind eyes.
So there's no doubt about it. These have saved a lot of eyes."
CSA sets guidelines
To be certified, a hockey
must pass a battery of
tests set out in Pashby's CSA standard. Polycarbonate masks
and wire cages both must meet certain visibility requirements.
They must withstand the force of a puck fired at 112 km/h.
The cage-type mask must also resist penetration by a hockey
stick. The rules state that the mask must stop the blade
end of the stick, not necessarily the butt end.
oversees safety rules for the Canadian Hockey Association. He agrees
that sticks going through masks could be a problem.
Pashby says he and his colleagues believed that there was
no need to worry about the butt end of the stick. It was believed
that because the butt end is always taped, it would not penetrate
But to his surprise, Pashby discovered that he was wrong.
Concerned and curious, Pashby wondered how many legally taped
sticks will pass through the grid of a CSA certified mask.
He tried our experiment with his own team of eight year olds,
and with two teams of 12-year-old Pee Wees.
With the help of the younger boys, he tested 13 sticks. Five
passed through a certified mask.
The older players provided 29 legally taped sticks.
of them went through the CSA certified mask.
Pashby suggests the problem could be addressed by requiring
players to put more tape on the ends of their sticks.
The CHA's Tod Jackson says the rules don't specify the amount
of tape a player must use on the butt end of a stick, because
sticks penetrating face masks have not been a problem.
Jackson adds that those who are concerned about the risk
of a stick getting through a facemask can buy a polycarbonate
mask (clear shield) instead of a cage. One disadvantage
to the polycarbonate mask is that it can fog up in the heat
of the game.
Hockey dad John Muise has another suggestion the ringed
The ringette model
Ringette is game akin to hockey. Ringette players used to
wear a standard hockey mask, until a player suffered a serious
eye injury. That provoked Ringette Canada to push for its
own CSA standard for
facemasks. Now a ringette cage must
have a tighter triangular grid that a stick can't go through.
Some hockey people claim the ringette mask is harder to see
through. Pashby disagrees. He notes that the ringette mask
meets the same visibility criteria hockey masks do.
Muise says the hockey standard should be just as tough as
the ringette standard.
"It's not rocket science," Muise says. "They
should be able to make a mask to stop the end of a stick from
What you can do
Until standards are tightened, there is something consumers
can do for themselves. Before you buy a hockey facemask for
your child, try the penetration test yourself. See if a stick
will pass through the face mask without tape; try to determine
how much tape the stick needs to prevent the stick from going
through; make sure the stick won't pass through the face
mask if you fit it with a rubber stopper.
Note: Marketplace tried
to talk to officials of CCM and ITECH for this story. We
wanted to ask them why they didn't make a facemask with
a tighter grid. Neither company wanted to be interviewed.
However, both wrote back to say that their masks meet the current
NEXT: Marketplace hockey mask test results »