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Are Full-Face Shields Making Ice Hockey a More Dangerous Sport?

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Facial protection is "one of the most controversial or heated discussion topics in the sport" because the players think it will restrict their vision, says Meeuwisse. "A few players say, 'If I have a full face protector on, I can't see the puck at my feet.'"

"The great thing about this study -- and the reason we're so confident about the results -- is that we had a natural experiment, exactly the same caliber of players, same rules, same officiating, same ice surface, same everything. The only difference was the facial protection," says Meeuwisse, who is also team physician for the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames.

While their results might be applied to high school-level play, "we can't say that's true," says Meeuwisse. "When you get into less mature players, young adults, [the effect] might be different. Full-face shields might have a different effect on an immature neck or an immature head."

Lori Livingston, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and physical education at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, has also researched the issue. She provided independent commentary on the study for WebMD, calling it "solid work."

"My major comment [is] they could have gone a step further. It's rather disturbing that there were still 34 head and face injuries, even when wearing full-face shield," says Livingston, who has played college-level hockey and coached women's field lacrosse.

The way in which games are officiated should be addressed, she adds. "Because players are wearing equipment, officials tend to be more lenient. We should have very strict rule enforcement. Any injury up around the face should be a penalty."

While officials attempt to control players' behavior, "to be fair to the officials, there are [only] so many things you can control, and you can't anticipate that a player is going to do something illegal. You can see it and react to it, but you can't necessarily stop it from happening. ... Coaches and players need to understand that their attitudes need to be under control as well."

Vital Information:

  • Because of the aggressive nature of hockey, some colleges are requiring players to wear full-face shields.
  • Hockey players who wear full-face shields do not have an increased risk of head and neck injuries and experience fewer facial and dental injuries than those who wear half-face shields.
  • One expert says that the number of hockey injuries is still too high, and officials, coaches, and players need to change their attitudes about the sport.

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