TORONTO — Vancouver defenceman Erik Gudbranson is part of a dwindling group of players in the NHL that still chooses to play without a visor.
Not even a broken orbital bone in his second season could convince him to start wearing one.
"I got a puck in the face and caved that in. So I’ve got a metal plate holding it together now. Definitely an, ‘Oh (crap) moment,"’ said Gudbranson.
"I know it’s dumb not to wear it. I’ll be the first one to tell you it’s dumb. Honestly, it is. I don’t have a good explanation as to why I don’t wear it (other than) it’s a comfort thing."
Based on rosters handed in by the 31 teams at Tuesday’s deadline, only 34 out of 640 total skaters listed for the 2017-18 season will play without a protective shield.
That means 94 per cent of NHL players are now wearing one, an increase from the 73 per cent that wore them only four years ago before the league moved toward making them mandatory starting with the 2013-14 season.
The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association agreed in the summer of 2013 that players with less than 26 games of experience would have to play with a shield when they reached the league — as they did with helmets in 1979. It took 18 years for every player in the league to wear a helmet. The last player without one, Craig MacTavish, retired in 1997.
The NHL has also started cracking down on how a player wears his visor, with Toronto forward Leo Komarov being handed a minor penalty for equipment violation in Wednesday’s season opener against Winnipeg. The officials, who warned him in pre-season to wear it properly, penalized him for having it too high on his helmet.
"They told me it’s for safety." Komarov said in training camp.
Gudbranson broke into the league in 2011 with Florida wearing a visor but decided to take it off, "because I’m a knucklehead and I thought I was tough."
He’s been told by just about everyone he knows to wear one.
"My mom’s going to read this article and she’s going to rake me through the coals," he said. "My girlfriend’s on me about it, even my brothers and sister are on me about it. I know I need to do it.
"When I came into the league, even though it wasn’t that long ago, it was a bit different. A lot less guys were wearing visors at that point in time. There were probably 10 guys on each team that weren’t wearing them."
Every player without a visor has their reason, regardless of the role they play.
Calgary’s Tanner Glass is the only player on the Flames not wearing a visor. He’s played that way since 2007.
"Much to my mom’s chagrin it will stay that way I guess," said the 33-year-old. "I wore it in the minors a little bit last year and it felt weird. I prefer it off.
"I feel like I’m more into the game. Feel the wind in your face."
Ottawa’s Zack Smith said an equipment mishap at his first training camp in 2008 helped in his decision making. He’s played close to 500 games without one.
"My first development camp I got my equipment and I didn’t have a visor. I didn’t ask them not to give me one and it turned out I was the only guy who didn’t get one so it was like ‘who’s the new guy with no visor? He must be really tough.’ But meanwhile I was scared, and then I just never wore one."
Winnipeg forward Shawn Matthias, entering his 11th season in the league, started practising with a visor and plans to keep it.
"I played without a visor for a long time. I’ve taken pucks to the eyebrows, I’ve taken sticks up high, I’ve had some close calls," said Matthias.
"I’m getting older now, I’m going to be 30 this season. My priorities are a little bit different than how I was when I was younger. "It’s definitely different, but I think in the long run it’s a lot safer. Now at this stage of my career, it’s about longevity and playing as long as possible. I would hate for something to happen that I could have prevented."
Wearing one comes at a price, though.
"It’s not the same," Matthias said. "You do have a sheet of glass in front of your eyes. It gets fogged up, it gets wet. That’s just a little frustrating. Personally, I do prefer not wearing a visor."
At 25 years old, Gudbranson is the youngest player in the league without a visor and could potentially by the last one to play in the league without one. Zdeno Chara of Boston is the oldest of the bunch at 40 while the majority are older than 30.
"There’s a few guys around," said Glass. "I’m not the Craig MacTavish yet."
— With files from Joshua Clipperton in Vancouver, Donna Spencer in Calgary, Judy Owen in Winnipeg and Lisa Wallace in Ottawa