Hockey community calls for neck protection after Johnson’s death

By Tina Yazdani and The Canadian Press

People from across the hockey community are 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.

Johnson passed away while playing for the Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers during the second period of the Elite Ice Hockey League game at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena.

A Minnesota native, Johnson spent 13 games over parts of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons playing for Pittsburgh in the NHL before spending the 2020-21 season in Sweden with the Malmo Redhawks.

The news sent ripples across the hockey world, an incident that has only been documented in the sport twice before. Clint Malarchuk, a former NHL goaltender, miraculously survived a similar incident in 1989.

A player’s skate partially sliced his jugular vein, causing massive blood loss.

“When my accident happened, my mom was watching the game on tv… and I heard his family was probably watching on live stream and I just thought ‘Oh my gosh, these poor people’,” Malarchuk told CityNews 

Just last week, Malarchuk said he and another former player were taking about the importance of making neck protection mandatory.

“We’re both surprised it doesn’t happen more, because you do see those skates, guys in pileups, skates come up, all sorts of what could be close calls, so I’m surprised. It’ll happen again unfortunately,” said Malarchuk.

In response to Johnson’s death, the English Ice Hockey Association made neck guards mandatory on Monday.

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 the Malarchuk incident happened.

Former Montreal Canadiens forward Richard Zednik also survived a similar incident while playing for the Florida Panthers in 2008.

Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic women’s hockey gold medallist who completed medical school after her playing career and who currently works as an assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, posted to X platform, formerly known as Twitter, that 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.

READ MORE: American hockey player dies after ‘freak accident’ during game in England

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

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.

When asked why he thinks players are resistant to it, Malarchuk said, “I think it’s a mental thing, any player that tries something new, and it wouldn’t be a per say turtleneck. Kevlar is very thin.”

He said his incident was a catalyst for many minor hockey associations to make neck protection mandatory for youth hockey players. Malarchuk hopes it won’t take an incident in the NHL to wake people up.

“This is a tragic, tragic incident so I hope it has affected the hockey world in a traumatic way. Maybe we should hope it affects the hockey world in a positive way with neck protection and save lives,” added Malarchuk.

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