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Competitive-safeguards committee wants more data on three-quarter hockey face shields

By Brian Hendrickson

The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee asked the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports at its June meeting for its support and collaboration as the rules committee examines the possibility of allowing three-quarter face shields.

But competitive-safeguards members expressed caution as the discussion moves forward, confirming what rules committee chair and Niagara Athletics Director Ed McLaughlin said he knew coming into the meeting – that his group would need to collect substantial data examining safety concerns, some of which could be difficult to acquire in a short period, before the competitive-safeguards committee would be ready to consider supporting a formal proposal.

“How do you quantify that it is a safer way to play the game?” McLaughlin said. “That is our challenge in the next two years or so. We just ask as a committee and as a sport that we can work together in doing those things and find the best solution.”

McLaughlin spoke to the competitive-safeguards committee as a follow-up to the Ice Hockey Rules Committee’s decision a week earlier to begin a full review and data collection effort focused on the use of three-quarter shields. McLaughlin said that hockey players and coaches overwhelmingly prefer those shields, and a recent survey of 1,000 student-athletes presented to the rules committee showed that 83 percent of respondents preferred that option.

But McLaughlin said interest in the three-quarter shield is motivated by more than popularity.

 He said technology has changed and made polycarbonate shields safer than when the full cage was adopted in 1978 as a precaution against eye injuries. He also said there was a general feeling among coaches and student-athletes that the full cage leads players to compete with a feeling of invulnerability that in turn can contribute to more significant injuries, such as catastrophic spinal damage.

At this point, specific data do not exist to back up the safety claims, McLaughlin said. He said the rules committee plans to examine data collected from the USHL, an advanced amateur league that started using three-quarter shields during the 2011-12 season. But McLaughlin admitted that the discussion at this point is largely anecdotal.

“I was willing to come to this committee and say it is anecdotal,” he said. “But we need the data to prove it.”

McLaughlin said one reason for approaching the competitive-safeguards committee early in the process was to seek advice for the data the rules committee would need to collect to effectively examine the safety impact.

NCAA Director of Health and Safety David Klossner suggested that making additional changes to rules to reduce sticks and pucks from impacting the head and to the helmet – such as adjusting the chin straps to a four-point system to better hold them in their safest positions – might help make the change in face protection acceptable.

But the biggest challenge the committee saw was collecting enough data to justify the reduction of protection to increase overall safety. Without enough data to support a decision, the competitive-safeguards committee expressed concern that any increase in injuries could leave the sport vulnerable.

That concern led the competitive-safeguards committee to stress that significant safety data would need to be collected before an informed decision could be made.