A junior hockey team on Vancouver Island will be the first in Western Canada to make its players wear a full cage face shield instead of a half visor.
Brad Tippett, coach of the Junior B North Saanich Peninsula Panthers, said the decision came about because "logic trumps tradition."
"Why wouldn't we? This is about player safety," he said.
The Peninsula Panthers are following the lead of 117 Ontario-based Junior A and B teams that have made cages mandatory.
Cages — which are made out of metal or shatter resistant plastic — offer full face and mouth protection.
Visors only protect the upper half of the face, and even then, not very effectively if a stick or puck gets up underneath it.
Recipe for injury
Full face protection is mandatory at all levels of minor hockey in Canada but not in junior where graduating to a half visor is often seen as a badge of accomplishment.
But Tippett sees the half visor rule in junior hockey is a recipe for injury.
"The kids coming into junior now have never not played with a cage. And because of it, there's a stick management issue — they don't have to worry about their sticks being up because everyone they've ever played against has worn a cage. Then they come into a league where there isn't [cages] and their sticks are still up. And guys get hurt," he said.
Fewer trips to the dentist
Tippett believes other junior teams in B.C. are poised to make full face protection mandatory, if only because it will reduce insurance costs.
"In Ontario ... teams that go to the full cage get an insurance reduction. The majority of dental claims came from the Junior B level because they weren't wearing them."
Arguments against cages have little to do with safety and a lot to do with hockey's macho image — cages are for kids, visors just look cooler, spectators want to see a player's face.
As well, players often complain that a cage impairs vision on the ice, an argument Tippett calls "hogwash."
Thirty-five years removed from his own playing days, he can't help but recount the toll taken playing in the pre face- protection era.
'8 lost teeth, 300 stitches ...'
"I was cut all the time," he sad. "I lost eight teeth, I've got two screws in my jaw and had over 300 stitches in my face."
Peninsula Panthers management considered making cages mandatory last season but were finally swayed to do it after watching some of their players swap out their hockey half visors for full cages so they could play lacrosse.
"In lacrosse you're not allowed to play without one," said Tippett.
Tippett says he's received a flood of supportive emails — including one from a dentist — since announcing the move. He thinks it's only a matter of time before most junior level leagues make cages mandatory.
"This is like Jacques Plante's story. He was mocked for introducing the goalie mask, because it wasn't macho. Now, kids are mocked if their $1,000 goalie mask doesn't have a custom paint job. It's not the mask — the mask is normal now. It's the paint."
"Someone from outside of hockey said to me: 'There's something to protect your players and you're not using it? Why?' They couldn't understand it."