In a move aimed at improving player safety, B.C. Hockey has announced full face protection will become mandatory for players at the Junior B level starting next season.
"Our game is faster than it has ever been, and, as a result, we face increased challenges and responsibilities relative to safety," said B.C. Hockey CEO Barry Petrochenko.
"We are confident that, through this initiative, facial and dental injuries will be greatly reduced."
The change will apply to 42 teams across B.C., including those in the Pacific Junior Hockey League, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.
JUST ANNOUNCED: Full Face Protection Mandatory for Junior B Players Starting for the 2018-2019 Season. @KIJHL @Pacific_Junior @vijhlofficial @FSJHUSKIES #DawsonCreekJrCanucks @HockeyCanada https://t.co/tmiVnwxVfF pic.twitter.com/mQocvWUDur— @BCHockey_Source
In addition, the decision affects the Fort St. John Huskies and Dawson Creek Junior Canucks who both play in Alberta's North West Junior Hockey League.
Full face cages are mandatory at all levels of minor hockey but currently junior players in B.C. are only required to wear half visors.
And while the change makes sense to many hockey watchers, the announcement is not going over well with all of the players.
Darren Naylor, head coach and general manager of the Delta Ice Hawks, says most of his team doesn't like the change because earning the right to wear a visor has always been viewed as a badge of accomplishment.
'It's a Canadiana thing'
"It's a Canadiana thing. When you play junior hockey one of the things the kids really love is wearing the visor. I know when I sign players in the off-season, the first thing they say to me is 'am I allowed to wear it now?'"
"They'd rather be able to have the choice," said Naylor. "If it came down to signing a waiver ... I'm pretty sure the players would do it."
Statistics just released from Hockey Canada show a staggering difference in the volume and cost of dental injuries between players who wear full face protection versus those who don't.
From 2010 and 2015, 370 dental injuries were reported in the half visor category with claims totalling $288,000. Over the same period of time, players who wore full face protection only reported eight dental injuries with claims of just over $7,500.
According to B.C. Hockey, requiring players to wear full face protection will save junior B teams money, reducing the cost of insurance from $35 per player per year to just $10.
Saving teeth and eyes
PJHL president Ray Stonehouse applauds the move as the next logical step in player safety and says it's not just teeth that will be saved.
"We've had two eye injuries within the last 60 days, and, in both cases, the stick came up underneath the visor — the closest was about an eighth of an inch away from the player's eyeball. But for the grace of God, that player didn't get his eye torn out."
"Players are bigger and faster and sticks are coming up," said Stonehouse. "Just look at former Canuck Manny Malhotra. If he was wearing full facial, he wouldn't have had his career ended."
The North Saanich Pennisula Panthers of the VIJHL were ahead of the curve, making full facial protection mandatory at the start of the season. Head coach Brad Tippett called the decision a case of "logic trumping tradition."
Naylor says, despite the way his players feel, he does understand the value in making full face protection mandatory. He also believes the trend is likely to trickle up to the professional level eventually.
"I wouldn't be too shocked to one day see NHL players go with the full face visor as well," he said.