You see him as the other team gathers itself on a rush and you see that he has sized up what is happening at ice level even as you work to figure it out with the benefit of seeing the play develop from high above. He makes the right decision an uncanny percentage of the time. With a single, long stride, or a quick poke of his stick, or a smooth, insistent body check, he so often smothers the moment. He is just so calm.
But there Pronger was, suddenly, running. Running on skates. His face covered, his feet moving, his manner so unsettling, so frantic. It was not him. It is horrifying to watch a player like that but, somehow, this was even worse because of who it was. Pronger sprinted through the gate and up the tunnel and seemed so panicked, so frightened, so unbalanced, hands over his eye, running, hobbling, that it appeared as if he was going to fall.
That was the last we saw. And even after word reached reporters that the hope is that Pronger will be fine, you could only wonder:
What kind of horrible, terrifying incident is it going to have to take for the NHL and its union to mandate that players wear visors?
What kind of unspeakable tragedy?
"When Chris comes back, he'll be wearing a visor," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "We made it mandatory in the American Hockey League. To me, it's not an issue - players should wear them. Obviously, some of these guys have been around a long time and for whatever reason they don't want to wear one.
"I think the improvements with the visor over the last number of years, compared to what it was 10 or 15 years ago, are tremendous. Other than getting a little sweat on there sometimes, or maybe a little water, I don't think the visor is a big issue."
It was last night, though.
And how many more nights?
The news on Pronger does not sound alarming, but it is not definitive, either. Holmgren said there is a cut on the outside of Pronger's right eye. He will be on bed rest for 3 or 4 days while the accompanying swelling comes down. Only then will the doctors be able to tell exactly what they are dealing with.
The hope is that it is nothing serious or complicated, and that Pronger will be back in a couple of weeks. According to Holmgren, the vision was blurred in the eye but never gone completely.
And, so, they wait - as does a league that seems to believe that there is no need to force players to do something that most of them will end up doing anyway. But every time something like this happens, the need for action just seems so obvious. They have mandated helmets for 3 decades now, and this is the logical extension.
Of the 20 skaters the Flyers are currently lugging around - 18 dressed last night, plus Andreas Nodl and Andreas Lilja - 15 wear visors. By most accountings, a significant majority of NHL players wear them. And why wouldn't they? After all, they grew up wearing visors or full shields or cages or some combination thereof as kids. They're required in the AHL. They're required in international competition if you were born after Dec. 31, 1974. Because of that rule, at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Pronger was the only player on the gold medal-winning team from Canada not wearing a visor.
After the game last night, several of his Flyers teammates were questioned about what they saw and what they were feeling when it happened. Each one of them used the word "scary," sometimes with a modifier, sometimes without. And they all seemed to have their stories.
Scott Hartnell had a personal incident when he played in Nashville, when he worried if his career might be over. He now wears a visor. Danny Briere was one of the kids who thought he was bulletproof, who took off the shield when he came to the NHL only to put it on several years later after an accumulation of cuts and scrapes around his eyes left him wary.
"Chris is 6-6," said Briere, who isn't. "You would think a guy his height would be safe from it."
This night, he wasn't. And now we will see if Pronger will change his mind and maybe acknowledge the risks just aren't worth it anymore.
"I'm not sure our doctor would clear Chris to play if he wasn't wearing a visor," Holmgren said. "I think Chris was really scared by this incident here tonight. I would like to believe that he would want to wear one."
Chris Pronger, scared. The words do not belong in the same sentence.