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Garnet Exelby wears the Cascade Sports M11, endorsed by six-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Messier.

Claus Andersen/2009 Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Garnet Exelby has become an expert on head shots, having suffered three concussions during his career. And when he learned of a new helmet designed by Cascade Sports and endorsed by former NHL great Mark Messier, he didn't hesitate to become one of just seven NHLers wearing one this season.

"I heard about it and I liked the direction they're going as far as trying to force helmets to get better, as far as protection and technology," Exelby said yesterday after practice. "I compare it to skates - you take a skate from 30 years ago and a skate from today and there's a lot that's changed, but with a helmet, from when they started wearing them until now, not a lot has changed."

Aside from appearance, the biggest difference with Cascade's M11 helmet is its one-piece shell, which Cascade says will offer more complete protection of the head than a traditional two-piece design. The padding on the inside of the helmet has also been substantially reworked, which the company says will reduce the probability of concussions after impact.

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Leafs general manager Brian Burke watched a presentation on the helmet yesterday as part of the GMs meetings in Toronto and came away impressed. Burke said he is going to push to have it tested by players on the Leafs' Toronto Marlies farm team.

"I really like this helmet," Burke said. "I want to get it on some of the Marlies immediately. I teased Mark afterwards. It's amazing that you're in here talking about helmet safety. When he played for me, I couldn't get him to do his chinstrap up more than about four inches below his chin. It was useless."

Exelby said that while the M11 doesn't make much of a fashion statement, it's a step in the right direction in terms of concussion prevention.

"I just want to be wearing a helmet because I believe it has the best protection not because I think it looks the best," he said, adding that improvements in equipment can be just as much of a solution as rule changes aimed at head shots.

"Both probably in the long run will benefit players."

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Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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