Former NHL forward Adam Johnson died after his neck was sliced by a skate during a game.
In 2022, a Connecticut teen also died after suffering a similar injury.
Johnson’s death has reignited a debate about neck protectors.
Experts don’t think the NHL will require the equipment, citing the league’s resistance to change.
(NewsReady.com) – Hockey fans know there are risks when their favorite players hit the ice. It’s not unusual to see a player lose a tooth or suffer a concussion. Seeing one of them die on the ice, however, is not something anyone expects when they head out to an arena. But that’s what happened in England recently, and now there’s an increased interest in neck protectors.
Tragedy on the Ice
Adam Johnson played in the NHL from 2017 to 2020. He then crossed the pond to play for Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League. On Saturday, October 28, the forward’s team, the Nottingham Panthers, faced off against the Sheffield Steelers for the Challenge Cup.
During the match, Johnson and another player collided. At first, it looked like a normal on-ice collision, but it was quickly apparent that it wasn’t normal at all. The 29-year-old stood up, and a puddle of blood surrounded him. As someone helped him off the ice, blood continued to flow, and he was seen holding his neck.
First responders rushed Johnson to the hospital, where he died from blood loss caused by a cut to his neck.
Protection for Players
After Johnson’s death, the Elite Ice Hockey League issued guidance for neck guards, protection that is supposed to prevent injuries to the throat. The league announced it would recommend the safety feature but did not make the guidance mandatory through the end of the year.
The English Hockey Association, which governs the leagues below the top level, made the guards mandatory for all players beginning in 2024.
Across the Pond
In the US, Johnson’s death was shocking, but this is not the first time the issue has come up. In 1989, Clint Malarchuk was playing for the Buffalo Sabres when he suddenly had a skate in his throat. The skate sliced through his jugular vein. Malarchuk quickly skated off the ice while applying pressure to his throat. Fortunately, doctors at Buffalo General Hospital were able to save his life.
It’s been more than 30 years since Malarchuk suffered the nearly fatal injury. Other players have also had this scary injury happen to them. In 2022, a teenager died after a skater slashed his throat during a high school game.
Despite the injuries, neck guards are not mandatory in the NHL. According to experts, Johnson’s death is unlikely to bring about change right away. Daniel Brière, a former player and the general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, told The Associated Press, “It’s always tough to change.” He said that he hopes there isn’t another tragic incident before change happens this time.
Washington Capitals winger T.J. Oshie wore a neck guard during his game on November 2.
TJ Oshie is wearing a Warroad Hockey Co. neck guard in a game vs. the Islanders pic.twitter.com/Y93JlyD61i
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) November 2, 2023
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said players are “free to wear” the guards if they want, but the league won’t make them mandatory right now. He said there has to be a discussion with the players’ association.
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