Defective goalie mask injury threatens Bay Roberts teen's eyesight
Riley Akerman took a puck to face in prospects tourney in Toronto; Bauer says it followed recall protocol
Standout teenage goaltender Riley Akerman of Bay Roberts, N.L., had confidence that the titanium wire cage on his $1,000 goalie mask — the best that money could buy — would protect him.
But that confidence, along with the cage, shattered May 30 when Riley was struck with a puck during a prospects tournament in Toronto.
A five-centimetre-long piece of the horizontal wire snapped off and travelled like a javelin into his face, slicing across his nose and into his left eye, cutting off a small piece of his iris.
Underwent 3-hour surgery
Now Akerman, who turns 18 on Tuesday, is uncertain he will ever fully recover from the injury, let alone play elite-level hockey again.
"There were umpteen more injuries I would have thought more likely to happen," Riley said during an interview this week with CBC News.
"Being blinded by a shot that broke my cage never even crossed my mind."
Riley underwent three-hour emergency surgery at a hospital in Mississauga, Ont. A doctor initially told him the prospects of regaining full sight in the eye were bleak.
While Riley can now see clouded movement, it could take weeks, and possibly another surgery, before he knows if he will regain full sight.
"It's really just a waiting game," he said.
Not a hard shot
Riley has played at the major-midget level in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the Tri-Pen Osprey, for the past two seasons.
He is a Level III student at Ascension Collegiate, with aspirations of becoming an engineer. But his dreams for this fall were to earn a roster spot on a team in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League (OJHL).
Things were going well at the prospects camp late last month, until the second period of the third game of the tournament.
With traffic in front of his net, Riley stood tall with his six-foot-two frame to get a better view as the puck cycled back to an opposing defenceman.
This was, as dad would say, a snap shot off his back foot. It was the type of calibre shot you would see from a bantam player. It was nothing exceptional.— Riley Akerman, elite-level hockey player
The puck struck him in the face, and he quickly dropped to the ice in excruciating pain.
Amazingly, it wasn't a hard shot.
"This was, as dad would say, a snap shot off his back foot," says Riley. "It was the type of calibre shot you would see from a bantam player. It was nothing exceptional."
2,500 units sold in North America
Riley's parents purchased the goaltender's mask three years ago, and replaced the wire cage with a new one in November.
On March 31, Bauer Hockey Corp., issued a voluntary recall for two goal masks and the RP NME Ti titanium cage, the same model on Riley's mask.
Bauer warned that the wire may fail when impacted by a puck, posing a "facial impact or laceration hazard."
Roughly 2,500 of these goal masks, manufactured in Thailand and China, were sold since 2013.
The Akermans say they were not aware of the recall.
"If we had been, it wouldn't have been on his face," said Scott Akerman, Riley's father.
"The least of our concerns was always the facial area with that helmet and cage on."
Bauer says it followed recall process
CBC News requested an interview with Bauer officials, but was provided with a statement that said they are aware of Riley's injury and have been in contact with the Akerman family.
The company said it issued the recall after identifying the problem and notified both Health Canada and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The company also notified retailers to stop selling the product.
Those who purchased the products were eligible for a replacement mask and a free throat protector.
"We … followed all regulatory guidance regarding the recall process," the Bauer statement read.
"We communicated the recall on our website and other social media outlets, and advised our retailers throughout Canada and the United States to post recall information in their stores."
Bauer has also reviewed its design, manufacturing and quality protocols to ensure a similar situation does not happen again.
Scott Akerman is not convinced that was enough.
He believes they should have been notified directly, and is speaking publicly in hopes no one else has to endure a similar fate.
"This has been a nightmare. It would be for any parent," he said.
'Big concern' that family didn't see recall
Bauer assistant general counsel Michelle Hanson on Thursday told CBC's Aaron Saltzman "the fact that Riley and his family had not seen it (the recall) was obviously a big concern to us."
She said Bauer tried to distribute the recall information widely and asked Hockey Canada to pass it on to its members. Hockey Canada issued a bulletin to all of its branches, she said.
She said Bauer is now "reaching back out" to Hockey Canada and plans to do the same with USA Hockey.
Bauer is also looking at posting the recall on goalie boards online, she said.
Hanson said that the recalled product didn't come with a warranty card. Bauer doesn't sell directly to consumers, she said, and doesn't have a system to collect consumer information at point of purchase.
With files from Aaron Saltzman