Saturday, March 26, 2011

History of eye injuries in hockey

Of course Manny Malhotra is not the first player to suffer a serious eye injury playing. One of the best known cases was Greg Neeld. He was a promising junior defenseman with the Toronto Marlboros which happened to have been managed by my father-in-law, Frank Bonello. His career took a major turn on February 17th, 1974 when he lost his left eye as a result of a high stick by Kitchener's Dave Maloney.

But he tried to play on and was even drafted by both the NHL and the WHA. The WHA let him play (just 17 games with the Toronto Toros in 1975-76) but the NHL would not, despite Neeld's protective helmet featuring a visor then dubbed as "the Neeld Shield."

Neeld even took the NHL to court to try to play. The NHL refused to let a one-eyed player in the league, because if Neeld were to injure his good eye, the insurance costs of having a player to go blind due to injuries would be insane not to mention the bad publicity.

Bylaw 12:6 of the National Hockey League forbids players who are sightless in one eye from playing in the NHL. It states that players with one eye, or 3/60ths of normal vision, shall not be eligible to play for a member club. Loss of 75 percent of sight in an eye is required for insurance to take effect.

The regulation was introduced after a major leaguer named Frank "Snoozer" Trushinski who played for the Kitchener Greenshirts lost sight in one eye due to a high stick in 1921. He came back and lost most of the sight in his other eye after fracturing his skull in another accident. The NHL didn't want that to risk having its players lose their eye sight and they didn't want to pay the high insurance costs, so they created Bylaw 12:6.

In March 1939 Toronto Maple Leafs left winger George Parsons lost his left eye in an injury during an NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens against the Chicago Black Hawks. The NHL forced Parsons to retire.

Others have lost their careers to eye injuries. Players such as Al MacInnis, Pierre Mondou, Jeff Libby, Ryan McGill, Mark Deyell, Hector Marini, Jamie Hislop, Jean Hamel, and Glen Sharpley.

Thee Trushinski Bylaw still exists, but it has been successfully challenged. The NHL changed its policy and allowed Bryan Berard to play. The difference here is advances in medical technology. Berard had been fitted with a special contact lens that gave him more sight than Neeld had.


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