Yo, Ranger! Ever heard of a cage?

Marc Staal wonders if he still has an eye, on Monday.

Marc Staal wonders if he still has an eye, on Monday.

This picture (right) was attached to a story on blueshirtbanter.com, a New York Rangers fan blog. Thankfully, the article explains that Ranger Marc Staal is expected to eventually make a full recovery after copping a full-blooded puck to the eye two days ago, against the Flyers.

My favourite part of the photo is the ref in the background. Because he’s thinking what I was thinking, watching Staal writhe around in severe pain and then staggering off the bloodied ice. Arms folded, head on an angle, the ref is clearly thinking: ‘What a dick.’

Readers of this blog know what a sensitive, new age hockey player I am, usually full of compassion and love for my fellow skaters. But sorry, Staal, I have only one thing to say to you when you can eventually see out of what’s left of your right eye if and when the elephant-man swelling subsides: go buy a fucking face cage.

Staal was lurking in front of his own goal when a Flyers defender did what defenders do on the blue line and drove a hard shot through traffic. All it took was a deflection and suddenly Staal was copping a piece of hard rubber travelling extremely fast to an completely unprotected face. If this description is not graphic enough for you, click here. Watch the injury in all its animated gif gory. It’s way nasty.

In dev league and summer league, the ferociously competitive forms of hockey in which my on-ice adventures exist, many players wear the plastic visors that barely cover your eyes. Not many don’t wear anything but that’s because Ice Hockey Victoria dictates an age range for when you have to wear a cage, or a visor or nothing at all. I’m not kidding: it is clearly stated, in fine print, that while my 17-year-old and 20-year-old sons must wear face cages, hacks my age are not legally required to wear any facial protection, presumably on the basis that if we haven’t picked up a life partner with our looks by now, it really doesn’t matter if they’re ruined at this point.

That was my reading of it anyway.

I wore a full face plastic visor for a few months but found the constant fogging, no matter what demisting potions I attempted to use, to be incredibly distracting. It was actually when I was sitting on the bench, breathing hard but not moving, that I couldn’t see a thing. I’d jump the boards pretty much blind, lost behind a pea-soup fog on the plastic in front of my face, and require quite a few strides for the breeze to clear things up.

Early on in summer league, I switched back to a full face wire cage and have never regretted it, even if yes, it clearly does impair your overall vision somewhat.

That’s a trade-off I’m prepared to make. As I say to anybody when this subject comes up in locker-room discussion: “I’m far too pretty not to wear a cage.”

Or to put it another way, this is one extreme, nasty, potentially dangerous injury that I can avoid with the right equipment, so why the Hell wouldn’t I?

A hard puck to the helmet can give you concussion. So will bumping your head hard against the ice, or into the boards. … basically, if your brain bounces hard enough against your skull, a concussion will happen. There’s no real way to protect that.

"Is he dead?" That's what Drew Miller appears to be wondering after Red Wing Patrick Eaves'  face met a puck. Eaves was out for a year. Would a face cage have helped?

“Is he dead?” That’s what Drew Miller appears to be wondering after Red Wing Patrick Eaves’ ear met a puck. Eaves was out for a year. Would a face cage have helped?

But a face cage can stop a puck or, in my experience, a more frequent errant high stick to the face.

Two weeks ago, we finished a game at Oakleigh and were preparing to leave when a guy staggered off the ice, from a team training scrimmage, with blood pouring from his mouth and a big tooth, one of his bottom fangs, in his hand. “What do I do?” he asked us.

I resisted the urge to say: “Well, five minutes ago, I would have said buy a face cage but it’s too late for that.”

Instead, desperately trying to remember the St John’s first aid part of my scuba diving Stress & Rescue training, I suggested he put the tooth back in his mouth and suck it like a lolly. Saliva is actually the best warm, sterile holding material there is. Happily other even more medically qualified people were there and so he was hauled off to the Monash Medical Centre for treatment. I doubt they would have been able to put the tooth back in.

A cage would have stopped that injury ever happening and the case list goes on and on and on, at every level of hockey.

I do recognise that some head injuries are going to happen, no matter what, in a game where bodies, sticks and pucks hurtle around a confined space. The Red Wings’ Patrick Eaves is only just back on the ice after more than a year of “concussion type symptoms” as they call it, having worn a puck to the ear in front of goal. This one was really nasty but actually I’m not sure a cage would have helped him. The puck struck him near the ear as he turned away from it, so I suspect the brain-rattle was unavoidable.

All a cage can do is protect your eyes, nose, teeth and cheekbones. But that’s no small thing. It’s strange that no hockey player would think of heading into a game without elbow and knee protection, yet many skate into battle with unprotected faces.

I firmly believe that most amateur players only wear visors or nothing at all because they watch the NHL and see their heroes manning up in no visor, or a minimal visor. Visors look way cooler, no doubt. Right up until you get hit. I accept that the vision is worse in a cage but I’d counter that all the knee-to-ankle padding impedes your natural skating ability. Yet nobody ventures into a game without leg padding. Imagine the looks we’d give somebody, being helped off the ice with a broken leg, if they said: “I chose not to wear knee padding because it affects my crossovers.”

In two and a bit years of chasing pucks around, I can easily think of seven or eight times where my face cage has been rattled hard ether by a flying or deflected puck, or somebody’s stick waving around, way off the ice, or even an elbow, and I’ve actively thought: “Amen for the cage.”

Now I just need to work out how to protect my inner thigh, having copped a hard drive to that unprotected flesh against the Fighters on Sunday. Between that and my boringly endless troubled left knee, my skating is not at a career peak right now. On Sunday, we Interceptors play our last game of the summer league season, and I think my legs need the rest. Well, actually not rest: I’m getting too much rest, not able to run or ride my bike hard or do any of the usual things that put off-ice miles into my legs. They’re getting sluggish because of this undiagnosed knee. Time to get it sorted, but I wanted to survive the end of the season.

At last, next week, I’ll be able to see the doctors, as they do an MRI. Which puts me ahead of Marc Staal. He’s listed today as out of action indefinitely.


  1. Clayton Powell says:

    Totally agree Nicko. I wouldn’t dream of going on the ice without my cage. I like the retro feel of the cage. I feel like a real old school hockey player.

  2. I am all for the full cage too and wouldn’t dream of playing without it. I have seen the downside of not wearing one and the hospital trip and nice scars from not doing so.

    I really think all beginners should just get one and get used to it from the start. The skill level just isn’t there to warrant any complaints about it impeding play, it’s probably a hundred other things causing that before the helmet can be blamed.

    In the NHL, rule 9.6 on dangerous equipment discusses unsafe materials and face masks etc. The metal face cage is deemed illegal and is seen as a potential danger to other players. It can only be worn by a returning injured player, if recommend by a doctor.

    So unless they get the full plastic visor which as stated have a lot of fogging issues, they are kind of left with the face shield option only.
    Saying that Staal would of been a lot better off with that than nothing of course.

    Great blog! It Makes me a little home sick.

    From a beginner Aussie hockey player battling away in Canada.

    • Heya Paul,

      For real? Did you know I have guest writers? Write me a blog post about what it’s like to be an Australian learning in Canada! We’d love to read about it, I’m sure … I know I would.
      Email me at nickolaki@gmail.com, if you can be bothered.

      • For sure. I will write up something about my time here. I might be a couple of weeks.
        We have a game tonight actually. http://www.nchl.com/edmonton Team Garbage Goals. People are pulling out left, right and centre. We just got 15 cm of snow today.The roads are crazy, the Police are closing down certain highways saying enter at your own risk, they won’t help if something happens and banned tow trucks from helping either have banned

      • There was a 60 car pile up just outside of the city, so as you can imagine many areas are in chaos , and this is meant to be the start of Spring. Add in a 10.45pm ice time on top of that and it’s quite amazing what we all will do for hockey. Still the game will go on, I love it!

  3. Oh, that’s classic. I think the little band of Melbourne hockey devotees that I’m part of would love to read more about your world … did you play before you got to Canada? How long have you been going for? The standard? (We all assume everybody is basically NHL-ready on ponds across northern America) … and yet the devotion to crazy ice times and getting to the rink no matter what, snowstorm be damned, sounds very familiar 🙂

    • Yeah I knew you would relate to the late ice times. I can tell your little band are devoted and put in a lot of effort for the love of hockey.
      Yes and no in regards to playing before. I started in a beginners course last June/July at the age of 31. https://www.discoverhockey.com/edmonton/DH_Edmonton/NCHL_Edmonton_Beginner_Hockey_Program.html
      I hadn’t had a pair of skates on for about 18 years prior to that, so it all felt new and i couldn’t even stop anymore. As a kid I lived on my inline skates for a few Summers. This included playing a bit of street hockey.
      I trained with an inline hockey team for a few months and had a couple of games. During the Winters I was lucky to have some ice hockey skates and a friend who’s parents worked at an ice rink. We got loads of ice time in the winter for a couple of seasons. I learnt to ice skate then and being a kid picked up things a lot quicker compared to what i do now. I also had a couple of months ice hockey training at the ringwood rink with the development council. This included a couple if scrimmages at Oakleigh.
      This was as a preteen/early teen age, of a couple of year period.
      Starting at my age again it felt like I had to learn it all from new. Saying that ,slowly my body did start to remember things that my mind thought it could do, and my skills are certainly a lot better than my friend who started from scratch last July.
      So those early beginnings did help. Probably the difference in the beginner group here compared to what I imagine at home is that nearly all the guys here could skate at an ok level. Most couldn’t stop, go backwards, crossover overly well etc. They had at least skated, hit the puck around on an outdoor rink or played ball hockey. A couple had just started from scratch though.
      I hope this makes sense I’m typing on an iPod.

      • Us beginner guys and girls got two teams together and entered into the league for winter. My team being the Garbage Goals who i have played about 25, E2 division games for. The other team being the Gongshow, who I will sub for as well in the upcoming summer season. The Gongshow jersey is great as the majority of the team is of Asian decent and have a large Asian gong as their logo.
        I’m sure most of you know the terms garbage goals and gong show. If not look it up. The word gong show is a very Canadian term that is used also outside of hockey.

        Yeah the standard can be very high here. You get 12 year old kids that turn up to games in suits and would blow your mind with their skills. They watch 15 year olds here, picking out stars they know might be in the NHL draft in a couple if years, they write articles about them. they even have hockey high schools were kids get ice time every day. The Canadian hockey league junior teams here are amazing! You watch 17/18 year olds juniors and the standard is so high that some of the players are actually drafted by the NHL and just waiting to mature and be called up.
        I can only assume but i guess if an average C or D grade cricket player who has played most of his life would come to Canada to play he might become above average here. I assume the average Canadian player coming to Australia might step up a grade or two.Maybe not.
        Funny story though, my team went to play some shinny against a D division team. Instead they weren’t there and they gave the ice to a bunch of Junior B players. To put this in perspective, a young guy from their group heard my accent, we started talking about Australia and he says ” do you know the Aussie national league, Melbourne Ice etc?” “Yeah of course”. He says ” next season I’m going to play defense for the Perth team”.
        You must imagine I was glad that we had mixed our teams together to make it fair and he was on my side.

        Saying all this not every Canadian is great, my league is starting to be built on beginner players like all you guys. Adults that come through the program. It’s just here someone might get a friend who has played all his life to come join the team and that steps the quality up. Which for a defense player like me means you have to learn pretty damn quickly to stop these guys.

        I’ll write you an email eventuslly instead of filling the comment section up. Post any questions you have and I will be happy to answer. Cheers . p

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