Hockey season signals the beginning of winter for many fans. But with winter sports comes the risk of head, face and eye injuries.
Flying pucks, skates to the face and stick pokes can all cause lasting vision loss. Thankfully, players of all levels — from youth teams to the National Hockey League (NHL) — can minimize their risk by using protective eyewear.
Skates, sticks and eye injuries
New York Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is the most recent hockey player to sustain a career-ending eye injury. Boychuk lost peripheral vision after an opponent’s skate blade cut his left eye during a game in March 2020. The cut required 90 stitches in his eyelid and caused irreparable damage to Boychuk’s optic nerve.
It was his second injury to the same eye: In 2010, Boychuk fractured his orbital bone after being hit in the side of the head with a stick. After that, Boychuk began wearing a visor.
Lucky for him, the visor took the brunt of the skate’s impact this year and prevented catastrophic injury to the eye.
Hockey visors and face shields protect the eyes
Studies show visors can protect the eyes from injury. Researchers at the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School predicted that if NHL players wore visors, the number of eye injuries would decrease four-fold.
The American Hockey League made protective visors mandatory in 2006. In 2013, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association began requiring visors for all new players in the league.
These historical safety measures are paying off. A new study in the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology shows that there has been a significant decrease in the number of NHL eye injuries between 2010 and 2018.
Encourage all hockey players to wear protective gear
But regulations still allow players with more than 26 games in the NHL to opt out of visor wear. Today, a handful of NHL players still play without a visor, putting their eyes at risk. What’s more, 31 eye injuries caused 233 missed games and almost $9 million in financial losses across the 2010–2018 NHL seasons.
In competitive hockey, games are becoming faster and players are getting stronger. This means the risk of injury will continue to increase, making protective gear even more important. Whether you’re playing in a league or just throwing on skates for a game at the lake with friends, include visors as part of your uniform.
And remember, it's important to call your ophthalmologist or seek medical attention if you injure your eye during a game.