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Lundqvist Injury Puts ‘Illegal’ Cat Eye In Spotlight

Lundqvist Injury Puts ‘Illegal’ Cat Eye In Spotlight

During Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist – widely considered one of New York’s most valuable weapons – left the game after just one period of play due to an eye injury sustained when teammate Marc Staal poked him through the cage of his mask with a stick blade.

Whether Lundqvist will be able to play Game 2 on Saturday is questionable, though the fact he practiced Friday is encouraging. He had swelling around the eye and was seeing a specialist on Thursday, but either way the incident has put the cat-eye cage that almost every NHL goalie wears – despite the fact it is illegal to import or sell in Canada – in the spotlight.

The injury itself was accidental, and seemed like a one-in-a-million chance. After all, the likelihood that a stick blade will come at a goaltender at just the right angle to slip between the wires of his mask’s cage is pretty low; add in the low likelihood players will look to intentionally injure a goaltender this way, and it seems like a rarity. But the fact a stick blade can fit through that gap is cause for concern, one that some general managers in the NHL have quietly lobbied to have addressed for years.

Eye (and facial) injuries aren’t nearly as uncommon for goalies as we’d like to believe, and seeing The King on the ice kicking his feet in pain during a crucial game is a harsh reminder of the safety concerns that led Health Canada to make it illegal to import, advertise or sell cat eye cages in Canada since 2009.

Lundqvist, who will be a game-time decision Saturday, doesn’t think the rules need to change.

“No. I think I haven’t seen many incidents like this over the years, and accidents happen, injuries happen, and I feel still though as a goalie you are pretty well protected. So I don’t see it as an issue, but within a year here I’ve experienced two freak accidents, but I still feel like the equipment’s good and there’s nothing really to change there,” he told reporters in Pittsburgh after practice Friday. “I had a little different mask playing in Sweden but the last I think 12-13 years I’ve been using that cage and it makes a big difference when it opens up a little bit for your vision and your eyes. It’s a good thing that you have that cat vision or cat look, as you call it, so I would not like to change that.”

When we think of scary goaltender injuries, we think of players like Clint Malarchuk, or of injuries like the one Matt Hackett sustained at the end of the 2013-14 season. We think of groins and leg injuries, sometimes of pucks to the throat or concussions. We don’t often think of the risks that the cat eye design so many pro masks feature can hold, but there have been several incidents.

Former Islanders goalie Rick Dipietro once had his cornea scratched by Sidney Crosby’s stick after it got through the eye hole, and this season alone Marc-Andre Fleury was cut under the eye after a teammate stick got through his cat-eye cage, and Ben Bishop was forced to leave a game in December after an opponent’s stick clipped his eye, saying later he “thought his eye was falling out:”

The risks are clearly there, in large part because the cat-eye is designed only to ensure pucks can’t fit through the hole, though there have been a few close calls over the years. After Lundqvist left the game, Brian Boucher, who did color commentary for the game on Wednesday, recalled the time a puck got lodged in his own mask, stopping just short of his eye. He’s not the only goaltender to have that happen, either: there have been shots through the eye hole (like one to Jonas Hiller that saw the Swiss goaltender need stitches), both that have gone all the way through and that have gotten stuck very close to the eye.

The issues with some titanium cages have also been well-documented; Bauer Hockey recalled one design that had breakage issues a few years back, and even a few pros have dealt with cages breaking in their time (remember when Evgeni Nabokov’s mask broke off a shot and cut open his nose?).

The issues with cat eye designs aren’t nearly as documented, though.

If Lundqvist’s injury is any indication, maybe they should be.

The solution isn’t an easy one. Part of the attraction of the cat eye design is visibility; with the wider, tapered eye hole instead of a grid-like cage, goaltenders don’t see distractions in their peripheral vision. Convincing goaltenders to make the hole smaller – something Hiller did after requiring stitches from his own cage accident with the Anaheim Ducks – won’t be easy, nor would convincing goaltenders to adopt a more standard grid design.

The cat eye optimizes visibility, and no goalie will readily give that up.

The cat-eye design has been illegal to sell in Canada since 2009 and isn’t allowed in minor hockey. The same rule is not enforced by Hockey Canada on pro teams, in large part because it isn’t illegal in the United States, and therefore cannot be enforced on US-based teams.

Per Health Canada in 2009, in a letter to Hockey Canada, the “wider cat-eye design on some goaltender masks” does not meet Health Canada’s standards due to a lack of protection from hockey pucks or hockey sticks. That doesn’t mean that Canadian goaltenders may not be able to order them online, but the fact that they’re considered a hazard by the Canadian health boards certainly raises a few questions.

Possibly the most important tool in a goaltender’s arsenal  is his eyesight – so just maybe, steps should be made to ensure their eyes are better protected.

About The Author

Cat Silverman

Catherine is the first American in a long line of Canadians, making her the black sheep before she even decided she wasn't going to be a Leafs fan. Writer for Today's Slapshot, InGoal Magazine, and Coyotes.NHL.com, coach in the Arizona Coyotes Department of Hockey Development. Goalies are not voodoo.

20 Comments

  1. Matt

    I don’t feel safe in a Cat Eye cage.

    • Cat Silverman

      I don’t use one at all.

  2. Rich pentico

    I had a stick blade come in through an eyehole, when I was down in the crease. Scared the bejesus outta me. The next day I ordered a different cage. I’ll never go back to the pro-style cats eye.

  3. Keith

    I had the butt end of my defenceman’s stick get through and cut me above the eye. Will never go back to the cat eye either but I can’t deny the sight lines were way better.

  4. Craig A

    My issue is I can’t find a safe cage I can see out of! I have tried the grid design and the certified cat-eye design. On the grid design, the bars line up, on my head at least, in front of my eyes and I can’t see to make a save. With the certified cage, it is my peripheral vision that suffers and the sense of looking out of a tunnel when looking forward. I used to wear the Jofa helmet and cage combo and could see fine out of it. Maybe the answer lies in making thinner bars but more bars ala the Jofa?

    • Jake

      i would recommend using a “cheater” cage similar to the one used by Tim Thomas. You still get visibility without worrying about pucks or stick blades

  5. Pasi Raitanen

    I know this may be slightly controversial, but just as the players in the senior level do not have to wear a full face cage/mask, goalie should have the choice of using his choice of mask and cage.
    Again, slightly controversial, I chose to play the game for living for 20 years, my choice, and I truly believe safety is important and paramount. I got injured several times and some of those, I will carry on as remainders for rest of my life.
    As long as you are an adult, risk will be calculated part of your life. I did play with the chicken wire cage till I was 20, that, I believe it is fair.(maybe carry on the rules to non professional senior level too) . The chance to get hurt is always there, losing your sight is much more severe than tearing your MCL, ACL or any of the other ligaments us goalies do tear weekly bases, but even the severity of the risk is only the same as the players wearing a visor, or helmets with less protection.
    For me personally, much more dangerous part is your neck, so if anything, you should have mandatory neck guard, as all the “close calls” were shots in exposed neck area.
    This not a argument, purely my personal point.

  6. cody

    A skate is way more likely to cut your throat. A shot could smash your larynx or leave you braindead. A stick could spear you anywhere and seriously injure you. Your heart could stop. There’s no way to be completely safe. People have to accept this if they are going to play hockey, no matter how much they try to artificially mandate away risk. Kind of ironic that the NHL has no problem shrinking gloves and knee pads and breaking hands and knees but no they care about goalies’ safety. Such a sad and backwards society.

    • Joe Feeney

      YOu talk about a goalie’s heart stopping, It happened in a game I scheduled, the visiting teams goalies heart stopped, (he’d had the widow maker heart attack) one of our players who is a doctor took the AED in our rink and hit him three times, he was back playing in six weeks and is in much better shape than before.
      By the way are we going to mandate AED’s in all rinks? May be more important than cat eye masks.

  7. Chace

    I special ordered a cat eye from the USA to go onto my mask, the difference in vision is night and day and has helped improve my play dramatically. I’ll NEVER go back to the grid or crappy CSA approved cat eye which still restricts vision. I’ve taken sticks and pucks to the face with zero issues.

    I’ve broken a rib by getting speared by a stick in the back by an opposing forward, does that mean we need to revamp chest protectors? I’ve taken pucks to the throat through plastic hanging shields and no one complains about those.

    The chances are slim no matter what that you’ll get injured in a freak incident. Stuff like that happens.

  8. Matt

    I use the Bauer certified cat eye. More bars and smaller holes, but still the same idea.

  9. Al

    I wore a certified cat eye on my old Itech. Loved that thing. Only the butt end of a stick could get through it (which can happen with a standard grid too) and the vision was great. KI miss that thing. I would never do a pro cat eye though

  10. Daniel

    I go back and forth on this, but the truth is a stick blade can get through several openings on a cats eye, and easily. Test it yourself. I also have. “Beaupre” style “cheater” cage on my sportmask. (Not the Tim Thomas one with huge eye openings) and it has very good sight lines and a blade cannot go in the holes. I just like the look of a cats eye more, but that is really a pretty dumb reason to risk injury. It might be rare, but if it happened I’d be pretty mad at myself for choosing vanity over safety. Especially given the sight line on the cheater are basically as good.

  11. Goalie MoJo

    I have been worrying most recently about my goalie son’s concussion potential, while he graduates from rec hockey to travel, and adjusts to players that are uniquely better at ringing his bell. I’ve found that there is little or no research and development toward protecting his noggin compared to the football helmet corporate conglomerates, so an off-chance at a stick getting through his preferred cat’s cage is of much less immediate Importance. I kind of feel I offer my son a fifth of Scotch and a pack of unfiltered Camel’s every time he starts a game, knowing how little care went into his cranium protector.

  12. Ralph

    Well. Everyone has their own opinion and should.
    I am 52 and have limited sight in my right eye from an old time Jacques Plante mask injury in 1978. It’s the best I had at the time. Very similar injury to Bernie. I continued to play when I healed and wore the Hasek type helmet.
    Now my kid today doesn’t have a choice I have everything on him, maltese, dangler, hackva and every other piece of protection.
    The bigger thing I see honestly is the kids don’t secure their goalie helmet/mask and as a coach I have called ambulances 3x in 8 years for goalies getting run into and losing g the mask and hitting their heads on the ice. They all run the chin cup up on their mouth.
    When your a adult I believe the choice should be yours just like a helmet on your motorcycle. When your a kid no way.
    Ralph

  13. Liana

    Doesn’t sound “one-in-a-million” if it happens that much…are there really like 10 million players wearing that mask. Hogwash!!!! I personally know someone who got a stick blade (not the nub end, but the actual blade) come through his cat’s eye mask and get him in the eye. I would NEVER wear one of these masks, I started out wearing a regular goalie mask and have done just fine, no need to change…

  14. Paddy

    I have used both a cat-eye (non-legal) and currently wear a straight bar on my mask. Despite the chance of a stick coming through, a double-bar cat-eye is far more protective and stronger in my opinion. Masks are designed to deflect the energy of a puck however with a straight bar cage I replaced several over the years (they are more flat…) When i was younger I thanked God for a cat-eye on several occasions. In my opinion a cat-eye can handle a deflection going of 90 miles/hr a lot better…yup I have the dented straight bar cages to prove it. I would rather wear a cat-eye to protect my face from a slap shot but I live in Canada and getting one from the US is my only choice. And yes, you do see a lot better through them.

    • Jacke

      Don’d kid yourself with your ignorance of physics, cat eyes are great but I don’t pretend that mine protects me better than a straight bar, which offers far superior protection. The fact that a bar bent shows that the force was dispersed better than if it had not.

  15. Nadim Adatia

    I wear a Cat eye, but thanks to my smaller head/helmet size the cage (and holes) are also smaller.

    For the people saying, “player’s don’t wear full cages” you’re right, but they are also not standing directly in the line of fire (shot blockers aside).

    As an adult, do what you want, but keep the bird eye cage through Junior hockey.

    Consider this: the cheater cage/wider opening bird eye prevents both pucks and blades and is made of straight lines (meaning better structural integrity to not bend as easily upon impact). Having said that, keep your pucks frozen (warm pucks bend/torque under the pressure of shots and can more easily squeeze through the holes of cages and hurt people.

    If you’re going to wear a cat eye, look at Double Bar cat eyes, and check the fit using a puck to ensure that if the puck were to get stuck that it wouldn’t contact your eye.

  16. Jack

    I’ve used a cateye (HM30 and then a Bauer profile) for ten years and I’ve never had any issues (other than the eye area bending because it has fewer supporting bars). The visibility is good, but I would be open to trying a “cheater” cage which perhaps has the best of both worlds.