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Cage Free

When it comes to the sport of hockey, I am a major advocate for player safety, but also like to keep hockey in the most traditional form possible.

I believe that when a player reaches 18 years of age they should be required to become ‘cage free.’ Whoa, whoa, whoa, did he really just say that?

Thinking back to pond hockey, most players simply brought their skates and stick to the rink. There was no gloves, helmets, shin pads, etc. Unlike today’s society where a 2 year old has a cell phone to remind mommy to pick them up from daycare, my generation and the generations before me walked several blocks to the neighborhood outdoor rink with our sticks slid through the gap between the boot and blade holder. Not to mention the fact that if there is a neighborhood outdoor rink that you are walking too, the weather is likely frigid.

Remembering those days, I never once think any of us took an errant stick to the face. I attribute this to the fact that we were all on the same level. We watched our sticks and were accountable and responsible for them. We chose not to hack at the hands or legs of the opponent, because we knew when it happened to us it hurt like hell. We kept our sticks down below the waist because none of us wanted to take a stick to the face. When you are aware that you are not protected, you take more responsibility for your own stick.

I have not worn a cage or shield since I was 20 years old and I plan on staying ‘cage free’ forever. I have noticed that the trend even in men’s leagues is to wear a cage or shield. There have been several players I remember that were cage free who are now wearing cages or visors. I understand the reason behind this being ‘I have to work tomorrow,’ however, I am also seeing the reduction in stick control.

I have always said that the most dangerous players to play against as a cage free player were the ones with the cages on. Most of these people have never skated cage free so they have never experienced the fear of seeing a stick coming at their face. Even if they have, they understand the cage will stop it. They tend to be more aggressive and not back away from situations where a cage free player may hesitate.

When I first went cage free, I was playing in a league where a lot of the guys were cage free and did not even wear visors. It was an old guard and one of my teammates basically told me it would be frowned upon and people would think I was weak if I wore a cage. That tough guy mentality has clearly diminished, which is fine. I think it should be a choice of personal preference, regardless of your toughness or competitiveness.

For the reasons mentioned above, I think once a player turns 18, they should be cage free. Players in Junior A hockey are on different levels when they choose to keep the cage on versus wearing a visor. The player with the cage will most likely be reckless with his stick causing obvious concern for those players wearing ‘halfies.’

The NCAA does not want to be held accountable for dental surgery in trying to promote collegiate athletics, however, I do not understand how the NCAA is a stepping stone into the professional ranks, yet the players are required to wear a cage. So if I get this right you wear a cage in youth hockey, play Junior and wear a visor, play college and go back to the cage or ‘fishbowl’ then play in ‘The Show’ and go back to a visor. Where is the continuity in that?

Visors versus completely cage-free, you may ask. I will save that for a whole other blog post.

What are some of your thoughts on requiring players to be ‘cage free?’

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