East Coast Hockey League president and CEO Brian McKenna delivered a firm and resounding opening statement on the league's landmark decision to make half-shield visors mandatory beginning next season.
"If you want to play in our league, you have to play by our rules," McKenna said Tuesday at the midseason board of governors meetings held in conjunction with the ECHL All-Star Game in Estero, Fla.
The ECHL is the first professional league in North America to mandate visors. For the players, there will be no exceptions. No special exemptions. No grandfathering.
The mandate is across-the-board for all players, even those under contracts to clubs in the NHL or AHL, where shields are not mandatory.
Will this be the final word? Not by a longshot.
The ECHL players' union - the Professional Hockey Players Association - likely won't give up the rights of its members so easily.
Although some coaches and players around the league have spoken out in favor of visors, don't expect the cacophonous majority to go down without a fight.
"They've taken action that really protects the players, but a lot of the players might not like it," Lynx coach David Wilkie said. "I don't know if the union would get involved. But I wouldn't be surprised if they did."
Richmond Renegades defenseman Milt Mastad told the Richmond-Times Dispatch the rule should be grandfathered in, much like the NHL did when it first mandated helmets in the 1970s, to allow veteran players the option to wear one or not.
"I think it should be a player's right to choose," Mastad said.
PHPA president Larry Landon has yet to issue a statement on the visor rule, but the union has never shied from confrontation before, and probably won't hold their tongues on this issue much longer.
Resistance from the players should make for an even more contentious round of negotiations this spring when the union and the league sit down to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires May. 31.
Other key issues in the negotiations will include a new salary cap, health insurance, maximum and minimum salaries, roster sizes and veteran rules.
During last week's governors meetings, McKenna said, decisions on these issues could not be made unilaterally by the league and "would have to be collectively bargained."
Which is why several players around the league contend the league also doesn't reserve the right to unilaterally make them wear visors.
The puck is now in the PHPA's zone, and this game is far from over.
PLATT-FALLS: Greenville Grrrowl coach John Marks might be one of the top bench bosses in minor-pro hockey, but he'll have to pull off one of his best efforts yet to keep his struggling club afloat in the Southeast Division playoff hunt.
Greenville's two best offensive players, former Lynx Jonathan Roy and Mikko Sivonen, each have left the team in recent weeks to pursue opportunities in Europe. Roy headed to Germany, and Sivonen, who was leading the club in scoring, returned to his native Finland, where he will play for a team in the Finnish Elite League and fulfill a six-month military obligation in the process.
Now comes the latest jolt. Goalie Jayme Platt, who helped the Grrrowl to the Kelly Cup last season, informed Marks last week he wanted to be traded to a Northern Conference team.
Platt did not make the trip with the club to Florida this weekend. Former Grrrrowl goalie and assistant coach Nick Vitucci has taken his place as an emergency backup.
Despite the commotion, the Grrrowl managed to slip past the Everblades 4-3 in a shootout Friday. They remain five points ahead of free-falling Columbus, which ran its winless skid to 10 games Friday.
Miraculously, the last-place Lynx have remained in the playoff hunt thanks to Greenville's woes. Augusta entered Saturday's game at Columbus just 10 points behind the Grrrowl with two games in hand. The Lynx and Grrrowl meet four more times this season.
CAUGHT ON TAPE: A few days after going pointless in South Carolina's 6-5 win at Florida Jan. 17, Stingrays veteran forward Rod Taylor was credited with an assist after a review of the game tape. That tied him with Darryl Noren for the ECHL scoring record, and he entered this weekend at 685 points for his career.
In his 10th ECHL season, Taylor ranks third in career assists (390) and games (549).
OPEN WIDE: Roanoke Express winger Dan Carlson scored a hat trick in a 6-4 win over Richmond on Friday, and he has his father to thank for it.
Struck in the mouth by a puck on Thursday, Carlson was told by team medical staff to sit out Friday's game. The former Notre Dame star took the frozen rubber in the mouth via an errant shot by teammate Frank Novock during Thursday's loss to Atlantic City, and suffered a few loose teeth.
His father, an oral surgeon in Minnesota, had his own advice.
"He called his dad, and he said, 'Put a shield on and play!"' Roanoke coach Perry Florio told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Florio also owes Carlson's dad a debt of gratitude, or at the very least, a steak dinner. The victory was the 100th of his career.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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