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Adam Oates: NHL's advent of helmets increased reckless play

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Asked about visors after Marc Staal took a puck to the face, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates said players should have the “right” to choose to wear them or not. But Oates, who never wore one during his playing days, is of the belief that helmets have played a role in more head injuries.

“For me it was helmets. When we came in the league the helmets were grandfathered,” Oates said Thursday. “And you never want to see anybody hurt, but I think part of the concussion problem and part of the high sticks is from the helmets.”

The NHL made helmets mandatory for incoming players beginning with the 1979-80 season. Veterans were allowed to play without helmets.

“There were no issues back [when I played] because guys respected each other differently,” said Oates, who debuted during the 1985-86 season. “I remember when the first college guys came out I remember [Wayne] Gretzky got cut in his ear and he blamed the college game. And in a sense he’s right. Because the college kids wear masks their whole lives and they play with their sticks up way more.”

Oates wore a full cage in college at RPI but avoided the shield during 19 NHL seasons. He said he’d consider a visor if he played now.

“I would now, yeah,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of the guys are doing it now. So to me that means there’s a lot more recklessness because of it.”

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