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Neck Guards in the NHL

Ice hockey is a fast-paced, physically demanding, and full-contact sport. These athletes are constantly getting hit and making aggressive plays on the ice. In this sport, injuries are not unheard of.

Courtesy of Ethan Miller via Getty Images

When hockey players get injured during a game, anything can happen. Sometimes players go right back on the ice and sometimes they are out for days, weeks, or months. Sadly, some on-ice injuries lead to tragic deaths of young players.

Adam Johnson Accident

Photo Courtesy of Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Adam Johnson was a 29-year-old American ice hockey player, who played in multiple professional leagues including the 13 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) in 2019 and 2020. In his most recent season, he played with the Nottingham Panthers (EIHL).

In England on October 28th, the Nottingham Panthers were playing in a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers. During the second period of the game, there was a freak accident between Adam Johnson and Matt Petgrave. When the two collided, Petgrave’s skate blade cut Johnson’s neck. He was able to get up and skate back to the bench. Sadly, Johnson passed away that night due to his injury.

Taking Action for Player Safety

Photo Courtesy of Alan Dobbins via RMNB

After this accident, teams are looking for more protection to keep their players safe while some players are taking action on their own.

The first league to take action is the Western Hockey League (WHL), an ice hockey league based in the Northeastern United States and Western Canada. They introduced a neck protection mandate that started on November 3rd.

The Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), an ice hockey league in the United Kingdom, will have a neck guard mandate starting in 2024.

Johnson spent 13 games with the Penguins between 2019 and 2020. He will always be part of the Pittsburgh Penguins Family, which is why the team strongly encourages players to wear neck protection in games. At this time, the team can enforce anything at the NHL level, but they are introducing a mandate for their AHL affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and their ECHL affiliate team, the Wheeling Nailers.

Nothing can be enforced at the NHL level because teams must get this change approved by the National Hockey League Player Association (NHLPA). However, Some players are taking action of their own.

Four players on the Pittsburgh Penguins started wearing neck protection during practice; those players were defensemen Ryan Graves, Erik Karlsson, Marcus Pettersson, as well as forward Lars Eller.

TJ Oshie, a right winger for the Washington Capitals, became the second player in the NHL to wear neck protection during a game. Oshie wore a neck guard on the ice in a game against the New York Islanders. During an interview with The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, Oshie said, “It hits me pretty hard, just thinking about my kids. I could take one to the neck tonight. And for them to not have a father — it’s just so sad and it makes me think twice about protecting myself and my neck out there. Whether it looks cool or not.”

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