After the passing of former professional hockey player Adam Johnson in England, leagues on every level of hockey are pushing for change.
Johnson caught a skate blade to his unprotected neck. It’s one of the only parts of a player’s body that is often left bare.
“They’re protected in their hands, they’re protected on the elbows, their shoulders, their necks are completely exposed,” said Rick Gotkin, head coach of the men’s ice hockey team for Mercyhurst University. “It’s absolutely a miracle that this hasn’t happened more.”
But a movement has started, encouraging hockey players on every level to start wearing neck guards.
Here in Erie, we have several local teams including the Otters in the Ontario hockey league, Mercyhurst men’s and women’s hockey, and youth teams.
Of those teams, only the Otters and their youth counterparts are required to wear them.
“When you’re talking kids eight, nine, ten years old, the neck guard, as well as every other piece of equipment they have on, is vitally important to them staying safe on the ice,” said David Schumacher, head coach of the 10u Jr. Otters Minors. “It’s more important now than ever before that they’re doing it the right way.”
On the collegiate level, neck guards aren’t required. Now, some student athletes say they are looking to add it to their list of personal gear.
“I’ve always been for neck guards; I wear one myself. Your neck is very exposed and obviously this tragic incident showed how important it is,” said Ena Nystrom, assistant captain and goalie of the Mercyhurst women’s hockey team.
“A bunch of different leagues will probably implement to wear neck guards and I think that we probably should. It’s obviously a tragedy what happened, and we don’t want to see it happen again,” added Vanessa Upson, assistant captain of the Mercyhurst women’s hockey team.
Now, Gotkin told us widespread neck guard mandates could be on the horizon for collegiate sports.
“This has to be a call to action. There’s absolutely no reason why somebody should have to worry about losing their life playing a sport,” said Gotkin.
It’s a trend that we’ll likely continue to see. Gotkin said he’s heard from his sources in the NHL that star players from across the league are going to be starting to wear neck guards as well, hoping the safety trend trickles down.