The National Hockey League has never mandated that players wear a neck guard on the ice, but that may change after Nottingham Panthers forward Adam Johnson tragically passed away after taking a skate blade to the neck over the weekend.
Other players have stared death in the face in similar situations in the NHL, including goaltender Clint Malarchuk and forward Richard Zednik, who fortunately survived their harrowing experiences.
To avoid another situation like Johnson’s, the English Ice Hockey League (where Johnson played) announced its “strong recommendation” that players across all levels in the English Ice Hockey Association wear an approved neck guard, and the NHL could adopt a similar philosophy.
“This ‘strong recommendation’ is in place until Dec. 31 2023, after which it will become a mandatory requirement,” the EIHA said in a statement. “It is not mandatory with immediate effect due to anticipated supply issues. This will be under constant review between now and mandatory implementation. All protective equipment must be worn without alterations and as directed by the manufacturer’s specification.”
The EIHA has listed its steps moving forward for improved player safety as a league and other leagues could follow in the coming days or weeks.
A few agents and a handful of former NHL players have voiced their opinions on the matter after hearing that the 29-year-old former Pittsburgh Penguins skater had passed away.
“Freak and horrific accident,” former Nashville Predators forward Scott Hartnell told Nashville Hockey Now. “I would be wearing a Tilo shirts and pants from Warroad company. Maybe they make a turtleneck edition of their anti-cut stuff.”
“Players are so vulnerable at every level,” former Predators defenseman Jay More told Nashville Hockey Now. “It’s surprising that those types of injuries maybe don’t happen more. On the other side of the coin, it’s pretty rare in the NHL at that level to happen.”
A few other former NHLers declined to comment on the matter but did mention how shocked they were at the fact that Johnson had suddenly passed away, leaving the hockey world reeling from such a heartbreaking tragedy.
“[It’s] a very rare occurrence, of course, but something that should be explored in my opinion,” NHL agent Todd Reynolds said. “Think halo like in F1.”
Law enforcement is currently conducting an investigation at Sheffield’s Utilia Arena, the scene of Johnson’s untimely passing. The EIHL did not play any games on Sunday and has yet to determine what the fate of Wednesday’s contests will be.
Johnson played 13 games in the NHL with the Penguins in 2018 to 2020, scoring four points. Before going to the EIHL, Johnson played in 72 American Hockey League games split between the Ontario Reign and Leigh Valley Phantoms. Last season, the Grand Rapids, Michigan native played 45 games in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, where he scored 22 points.
On Tuesday night, the Penguins held a pre-game celebration of life in Johnson’s honor following warmups. Skaters wore an ‘AJ 47’ decal on the back of their helmets.
“It’s something that we’ve all been thinking about,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told reporters. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones. Just a great guy, a great teammate, had an awesome attitude while he was here. Just genuinely happy to be playing in the NHL.”
The tribute video the Penguins played for Johnson can be seen here.