The New York Rangers announced late Wednesday afternoon that defenseman Marc Staal will be out indefinitely after being examined by two eye specialists.
Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist, and Dr. Mendel Markowitz, a maxillofacial surgeon saw Staal, who was struck near the right eye by a shot off the stick of Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen 5:45 into the third period of the Rangers’ 4-2 win Tuesday night at the Garden.
Staal dropped to the ice and clutched at his face. He was helped off the ice and did not return to the game. He was not at his stall when the dressing room was open to reporters. Head coach John Tortorella, Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi each used the word “scary” to describe the injury.
According to the statement, Staal’s injury — as per team policy, it was undisclosed — had “improved significantly and both doctors are optimistic Marc will make a full recovery.”
Staal’s older brother, Eric, a center for the Hurricanes, told NHL.com he spoke on the phone with the defenseman Wednesday morning.
“It's hard to say now. They're just waiting for the swelling to go down. He sounded like he was in OK spirits but we don't know a lot right now,” Eric Staal said. “Obviously we're saying prayers and hoping he dodged a bullet as far as being struck in that area. We'll know more with some more time.
“It's scary to see. It's an awful feeling and it made me sick to my stomach seeing him in that pain with his legs kicking. But, it was good to talk to him [Wednesday] and, hopefully, everything is going to be OK.”
Marc Staal does not wear a visor. Neither does Eric or their brother, Jordan, a center for the Hurricanes. Visors are not mandatory in the NHL.
However, in recent years there has been increased awareness of the fragility of eyes. Ian Laperriere’s playing career ended, for all intents and purposes, after he was struck by a slap shot off the stick of New Jersey defenseman Paul Martin above the eye in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinal at the Prudential Center. Laperriere suffered a concussion and nerve damage to eye, and needed 60 stitches to close a cut.
Laperriere returned to the Flyers lineup for the final two games of the Eastern Conference final and played in the six-game Stanley Cup final loss to Chicago, but the lingering effects from the injury forced him to retire. He is now the Director of Player Development for the Flyers.
Defenseman Chris Pronger’s career has been essentially derailed after he was high-sticked in the eye by Toronto center Mikhail Grabovski in a game in October 2011. Pronger has not played since, as he has experienced post-concussion symptoms.
Neither Laperriere nor Pronger wore visors.
In a sit-down interview with Sportnet.ca’s Dan Murphy, Pronger said the injury has limited his peripheral vision.
“That so-called sixth sense, I used to really have a good one. Now, I couldn’t feel anybody coming around a corner. My kids scare me all the time. That used to be what I was known for: knowing where everybody was, having a feel for who was around me. Now I don’t have that.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.