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League moves to protect players

Requiring all players to wear visors is just one of several changes this season.

The AHL will see new rules, logos and team nicknames this season. The most obvious change is the new rule requiring all players to wear protective visors. Penguin fans will remember that Dennis Bonvie, above, sported one after getting cut by a skate in last year’s playoffs. The strangest change might be the Milwaukee Admirals’ new logo, above right.

TIMES LEADER FILE PHOTO

At the end of last season, fans at Hershey’s Giant Center were treated to an unusual sight: Dennis Bonvie wearing a visor.

Bonvie was cut close to his eye by a skate in Game 3 of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s second-round series with the Bears.

It took 16 stitches to close the wound and hockey’s all-time leader in penalty minutes was forced to wear a visor for Game 4.

At the time, Bonvie said his close call would lead him to consider wearing the visor fulltime.

The AHL wound up making that decision for him.

On June 28, the league made it mandatory for all its players to use protective visors beginning with the 2006-07 season.

Bonvie is glad they did.

“I’m in favor of it,” Bonvie said. “I really am. It’s been coming. There’s life after hockey and you hate to see a guy lose an eye or take a puck in the teeth. However you can prevent that, the better it is.”

It was the career-ending eye injury suffered by Portland defenseman Jordan Smith that led the AHL to take what president Dave Andrews called a “significant and progressive step in the evolution of our league.”

In February, Smith, a 20-year-old second-round draft pick, was struck in the left eye by a puck that deflected off the stick of one of his teammates. It left him with a severely lacerated eye and multiple fractures in the orbital bone.

Smith underwent emergency surgery but lost all vision in the eye, ending a promising pro career after just 55 games.

“That’s not the way I want my career to end,” said Penguins defenseman Ryan Lannon.

Lannon started off his rookie season by not wearing a visor. He admits that it was because he didn’t want other players to think he was soft. Midway through the year he started wearing one. At one point it saved him from what might have been a significant injury when he was hit in the face by a puck.

“It’s just a comfort factor having that on,” Lannon said. “You know, you can always get dentures, or whatever you need, but the eye is something you want to protect.”

Curvature matters

While it won’t be difficult to notice the AHL’s most significant rule change – mandatory eye protection – you’d need incredibly keen eyesight to spot the extra quarter-inch curve that some players will make to their stick blades.

Previously, players were allowed a half-inch curve.

A more pronounced curve makes it easier to lift the puck and adds spin and velocity to shots. It also makes shots harder to control.

“I guess it means I better bulk up the padding around my shoulders a little bit more,” said Penguins goaltender Andrew Penner. “But that’s fine. They want to up the scoring, so they reduce our equipment, add curve to the sticks and restrict our playing the puck behind the net. It’s all stuff you have to get used to.”

While some have said that the extra quarter of an inch curve could leave defensemen and goalies vulnerable to harder and higher shots, Penguins defenseman Wade Skolney isn’t particularly worried.

“If a puck’s going to get you, it’s going to get you,” Skolney said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of a curve. There are guys using almost straight sticks and still getting the puck up. You’ve just got to be ready for whatever comes and protect yourself.”

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Change is a fact of life in minor league hockey, and there were more than a handful of changes in the AHL during the offseason.

A few of the more interesting ones:

• Not long after ending their unhappy marriage with the Albany River Rats, the New Jersey Devils purchased a controlling interest in the Lowell Lock Monsters. Following the sale, New Jersey changed Lowell’s nickname. The former Lock Monsters are now the Lowell Devils.

• AHL hockey is back in Worcester, Mass., after the San Jose Sharks moved their affiliate from Cleveland. The Worcester Sharks will play in the Atlantic Division.

• With the Sharks in, the Albany River Rats, now affiliated with Carolina and Colorado, have moved back into the East Division.

• Ten teams, including the Penguins, hired new head coaches. In the East Division, Craig Berube took over the Philadelphia Phantoms after John Stevens was promoted to the big club. Dan Marshall took over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after Dave Baseggio fell victim to the Islanders’ special brand of front office insanity.

• For some strange reason, the Milwaukee Admirals rolled out a silly new logo complete with a gruesome backstory. It involves a “young lad” who’s been decaying in the waters of Lake Michigan for the past 25 years. During that time he’s been practicing his shooting skills by using his severed leg as a hockey stick. Really. Houston and Bridgeport will also be sporting new looks.

• And finally, four referees were fired. Among those axed, Harry Dumas, easily the worst official in the AHL, and Michel Therrien-favorite “Mr. Bob – that’s big B, big O and another big B” – Langdon.

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