TORONTO — Like nearly every current NHL player, Buffalo Sabres winger Mark Mancari sported facial protection, a full cage, shield or partial visor from his childhood through junior hockey. With visors now mandatory in the American Hockey League, the 25-year-old has worn one for years as a star in Rochester and Portland.
But whenever Mancari’s in the NHL, where visors aren’t required, he ditches the protection, playing with just a standard helmet.
“I’ve had instances when you get hit in the visor and the visor cuts you,” Mancari said Tuesday prior to the Sabre’’ 4 3 loss to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. “I just have better vision with it off. We’ll see what happens over time.”
As Mancari spoke, Vancouver’s Manny Malholtra was in New York hoping a surgeon could save his left eye and vision. Mancari has watched the scary footage of an errant puck hitting the veteran’s unprotected eye March 16.
The injury has possibly ended the 30 year old’s career.
Still, Malholtra’s harrowing incident hasn’t swayed Mancari to put a visor on. Neither have those close to him.
“It’s a big issue,” Mancari said. “Some guys have sworn by them, they won’t take them off. Like myself, it’s a comfort issue. Maybe one day I’ll get into one. My wife and my family definitely want me in one. So we’ll see what happens.”
Mancari’s in the minority. According to research The Hockey News published in December, 59 percent of NHL players (381) wear visors. A similar survey earlier in 2010 found 65 percent of players 30-or-younger wear the protection. It’s only 45 percent for those older than 30.
Only five other Sabres Chris Butler, Paul Gaustad, Mike Grier, Cody McCormick and Mike Weber don’t wear visors. Tim Connolly and Steve Montador began wearing one this year after they broke their noses.
Toronto rookie Tim Brent put a visor on after Tyler Ennis’ stick blade hit his left eye the Sabres’ last trip here March 12.
“It was really scary,” Brent told reporters earlier this month. “I put my own finger in my eye to make sure it was still there. I honestly thought I lost it.”
Not surprisingly, the Malholtra incident has already started calls to make visors mandatory in the NHL. The NHLPA has always left the decision up to its members, though. Many feel they can’t play comfortably wearing one.
The AHL forced the protection on players after Jordan Smith, Brent’s AHL teammate, lost an eye in 2006.
Some have suggested grandfathering current NHL players and making all newcomers wear one, something Sabres winger Jason Pominville would support.
That’s what the NHL did when with helmets in 1979.
“If you’ve played without it for many years and you feel comfortable without it, just don’t put it on,” Pominville said. “The younger kids that come in should have to wear it.”
Pominville’s surprised anyone who grew up with the protection would suddenly shed it.
“For younger kids who come in who wore them in junior, I don’t see why they’d take it off,” Pominville said.
If Mancari goes back to the AHL, a league he dominates, he must adjust immediately.
“Your vision’s a little bit different,” Mancari said. “Coming up, there’s not a big adjustment because as soon as you take it off you have a little bit better vision. At the same time, guys that wear it say they don’t notice any difference. It’s all your own preference.”
(Bill Hoppe, a Times Herald sports writer, can be reached at email@example.com)