BUFFALO – Like just about every hockey player, Steve Ott wore a visor as a youngster developing through the junior ranks. But the gritty Sabres winger ditched the facial protection when he cracked the NHL in 2002.
The visor bothered Ott. It cut him, fogged up and splashed water in his face. Playing without one made him feel more comfortable hitting.
But at the same time, he said it wasn’t a big deal wearing one.
“You get used to it,” Ott said by phone Wednesday. “So it’s not really a big change. It’s been a thing for myself where … coming out of junior it probably would’ve been a lot easier for me to keep it on and I wouldn’t have ever even noticed, you know what I mean?”
Now, young players won’t enjoy the option Ott had 11 years ago. The NHL’s competition committee voted Tuesday to grandfather in visors. Use will be mandatory next season for players with less than 26 games of big league experience.
“I think the No. 1 thing is they always want to keep the players as safe as possible,” Ott said.
Ott believes players should be able to choose if they wear a visor. Still, he understands why change is coming. Some high-profile eye injuries over the years, including an ugly March incident in which a puck hit New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, prompted action.
“I think it swayed everybody,” Ott said about Staal’s gruesome injury. “I’ve played with teammates that have lost eyesight and everything else.”
While Staal has returned to the ice, his vision will likely never be the same.
With more players wearing a shield – usage is already at a reported 73 percent – Ott expects stick play will become looser.
“That’s where I think the biggest issue (is) falling in with the guys that don’t have one on,” Ott said. “ … When you don’t have a visor on, obviously you show a little bit more respect. You try not to bring your stick up or you wouldn’t have it up because it’s in the back of your mind.”
Ott, one of four Sabres who doesn’t wear a visor – Adam Pardy, John Scott and Mike Weber are the others – isn’t sure if he’ll starting wearing one again.
He put one on for about 30 games after a scary incident at the end of the 2010-11 season.
“I got hit with the puck below my eye and the top of my cheekbone really bad,” Ott said.
But Ott shed it early the next season after only about 30 games. He said it was too hot wearing one.
“It was too much of a bothersome for me,” he said. “So I don’t know (about wearing one again). I’d have to really look at it to decide.”