Facemasks coming to junior B hockey

Players unhappy about change says Flames captain

Facemasks will be mandatory in junior B hockey next season, and many players are not happy.

Bayne Ryshak has seen lots of faces stitched up after a hockey game.

The head coach of the Ridge Meadows Flames recalled his own facial injury, in light of the new announcement by BC Hockey that all Junior B players will now be wearing facemasks.

He was a rookie, and his line was about to go out on the ice for their first power play. A defending player got the puck and snapped it down the ice, and it zipped right into the mug of the fresh-faced young Ryshack. It cut him badly.

“The corner of my mouth, right up to my nose, was flapping in the wind like a flag,” he said.

He wanted to have the trainer patch it up and get back out there, but she insisted he go to the hospital, where he got nine stitches.

The next practice he showed up with a full cage. His coach, Russ Weber, told him if he wanted to play in Friday’s game, it wouldn’t be in a cage.

“He was an old school guy. I really liked him.”

He said that warrior mentality of getting stitched up and getting back on the ice is why many players in the Pacific Junior Hockey League are now grousing about the new ruling, which will take effect in 2018-2019.

He said the opposition on social media has been deafening. In a nutshell, it makes the league feel less like junior hockey.

The ruling will include the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) and the two (2) BC teams participating in the North West Junior Hockey League (Fort St. John Huskies and Dawson Creek Junior Canucks).

“From the safety aspect, I understand where they’re coming from,” said Ryshak. “You need your eyes.”

That said, with players wearing visors, he has not witnessed any serious eye injuries in his time as a player and coach. Just broken noses, lots of cuts, and some dental work.

“BC Hockey is proud to be recognized as a leader in risk management initiatives, and player safety is at the forefront of our program planning,” said BC Hockey CEO Barry Petrachenko in making the announcement on Tuesday.

“Our game is faster than it has ever been, and as a result we face increased challenges and responsibilities relative to safety. We are confident that through this initiative facial and dental injuries will be greatly reduced.”

The data on facial and dental injuries while wearing half visors compared to full face is “staggering,” said a BC Hockey press release. From 2010-15, over 370 dental injuries with players wearing half visors were reported to Hockey Canada as compared to just eight for those who wore full face protection. During the same time period, the overall cost of dental claims were significantly lower in the full face category; $288,000 versus $7,500.

Junior B teams will see a 71 per cent reduction in major medical and dental premiums under the Hockey Canada Insurance Program (down 35 dollars to 10 dollars per player) with the move to full face protection.

So, Ryshak asks, why did the ruling not also take in the BC Junior Hockey League?

“The same issues apply, and they send more kids on to the NCAA that we do, and they wear facemasks.”

Flames team captain Andrew Strelezki said most players don’t agree with the decision, and really like the visors they wear now. He would like to see veterans have the option of sticking with visors.

“They should grandfather it, so players in the league have a choice, but new players don’t,” he said.

He wore a facemask last year during he playoffs due to injury, and said it was a bit of an adjustment in seeing the ice.

“But you’ve got a lot less to worry about,” he said, noting it might actually lead to a more aggressive playing style.

“It won’t take away from the skill level.”

He noted there are a handful of players around the league who already wear full cages voluntarily.

Strelezki said full cages might put a damper on fighting, but in his four years in the league his team has been involved in a limited number of fights.

“They’re trying to get that out of the game anyway,” he said. “Our coaches don’t encourage it.”

“We’ll probably be the first league to get rid of fighting too.”

This season, the VIJHL Peninsula Panthers became the first junior team in BC to make the change to facemasks voluntarily. The Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) also applied full face protection for Junior A and Junior B teams.

For more information about BC Hockey see www.bchockey.net

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