All hockey players should wear neck guards, Wickenheiser says after Johnson death

Click to play video: 'Adam Johnson, former NHL player, dies at age 29 in ‘freak’ hockey accident'
Adam Johnson, former NHL player, dies at age 29 in ‘freak’ hockey accident
WATCH - Adam Johnson, former NHL player, dies at age 29 in ‘freak’ hockey accident – Oct 29, 2023

Hayley Wickenheiser is calling for mandated neck protection at “every level in hockey” after former NHL player Adam Johnson died from a cut by a skate blade during a game in England on Saturday.

Wickenheiser is a four-time Olympic women’s hockey gold medallist who completed medical school after her playing career and currently works as an assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

She says the risk is far too great not to wear neck protection, even if it doesn’t pass the “cool factor.”

Neck guards are not mandatory in the NHL. The Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League mandate players to wear neck guards.

A message board with a tribute to Nottingham Panthers’ ice hockey player Adam Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, the home of the Panthers. acob King/PA Images via Getty Images

Hockey Canada also requires players registered in minor or women’s hockey to wear neck protection.

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Winnipeg Jets interim head coach Scott Arniel says he expects the NHL to look into the use of increased protection.

Arniel was a forward for the Buffalo Sabres when his teammate, goalie Clint Malarchuk, took a skate blade to the neck on March 22, 1989.

Malarchuk survived the life-threatening injury but suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Former Montreal Canadiens forward Richard Zednik survived a similar incident in 2008.

Jets centre Mark Scheifele expects there to be several conversations about increased neck protection in the coming days. He says the protective gear can be restrictive and sees wearing a neck guard as an individual decision.

FILE – Pittsburgh Penguins forward Adam Johnson in action during an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. American hockey player Adam Johnson has died after a “freak accident” during a game in England on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023 his club said. The 29-year-old Minnesota native was playing for the Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers when he suffered a slashed neck during the second period of the game at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon, file). pv

Johnson, 29, received emergency treatment following the incident in the clash with Sheffield Steelers in Sheffield, England, and his club announced the tragic death on Sunday.

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“The Nottingham Panthers are truly devastated to announce that Adam Johnson has tragically passed away following a freak accident at the game in Sheffield last night,” the club said.

Bauer Hockey, which manufactures equipment including helmets, gloves and skates, issued a call of its own for increased collaboration in the industry following Johnson’s death. The company called for a mandate on neck protection and the development of new guidelines to ensure the mandate is enforced across leagues of all levels.

CEO Ed Kinnaly laid out three areas where he wants action taken, calling on industry leaders to increase efforts to elevate product awareness and educate parents and players on “the importance of wearing cut-resistant protection.” He also said the company would work with elite athletes to gain feedback in order to better product designs. The third area revolved around his call for a neck protection mandate and called on equipment manufacturers, governing bodies, ceritfication organizations and all leagues to collaborate to put this mandatory guideline in place.


South Yorkshire Police have now issued a statement regarding the incident.

“We were called at 8.25pm on Saturday 28 October to reports that a player had been seriously injured during a Sheffield Steelers versus Nottingham Panthers game at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield,” they said.

“Officers attended the scene alongside other emergency services and one man, aged in his 20s, was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Sadly, he was later pronounced deceased at hospital.

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“Our officers remain at the scene carrying out enquiries and our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing.”

— with files from Reuters and Global News’ Sean Previl

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