Tragic Incident Amplifies Debate on Safety Equipment in Hockey

by Andrew Wright
hockey safety gear

The discussion surrounding the use of protective neck gear in hockey has flared up anew following the tragic fatality of an American hockey player, who succumbed to injuries from a skate blade to the neck during a match in England. This occurrence has prompted a renewed examination of why a greater number of players do not adopt cut-resistant gear, especially given hockey’s history of serious injuries.

It might come as a surprise to those outside the sport that such debates even exist, yet those familiar with hockey know all too well the sluggish pace at which the sport embraces change.

Numerous NHL players admit to having been cut by a skate during games or training sessions, and the list of incidents is sobering. High-profile injuries such as Erik Karlsson’s Achilles tendon laceration and Evander Kane’s wrist cut bring the issue into sharp focus. The recent death of Adam Johnson, a former NHL player, in the UK has intensified this week’s discussions on safety gear.

Nevertheless, the likelihood of swift changes to the sport is slim. Hockey is traditionally resistant to change, evidenced by the delayed implementation of helmet mandates, which only came into effect over a decade after the only NHL fatality caused by in-game injuries.

Danny Briere, a former player and now a general manager in Philadelphia, notes the resistance to change within the sport and the unfortunate pattern of waiting for tragedies before implementing safety improvements.

In the NHL, neck guards and cut-resistant materials for wrists and legs are not compulsory, despite these areas being at greater risk. After Karlsson’s injury, there was a surge in players opting for Kevlar socks and Cutlon fabric for protection. However, some players resist such gear, citing discomfort as a hindrance.

Jack Johnson of Colorado and Erik Karlsson, now with Pittsburgh, have shared their own experiences with protective gear. Karlsson regrets not wearing cut-proof socks at the time of his 2013 injury, which he believes prompted the increase in their use.

Stories of skate-related injuries abound, with players like Josh Manson recalling frightening incidents of being cut during games.

Historically, there have been several near-fatal skate blade accidents, like those involving Clint Malarchuk and Richard Zednik, who both survived severe neck lacerations. Unfortunately, Adam Johnson did not.

NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh reflects on the importance of safety in the sport, emphasizing that players should be able to return home safely after games. Rick Gotkin, coach of Mercyhurst College men’s hockey, sees the need for neck protection as urgent.

In the wake of Johnson’s death, T.J. Oshie’s company saw a surge in interest for cut-resistant gear, and Bauer Hockey has pledged to push for more widespread adoption of neck guards.

While mandates for protective gear are in place in certain youth leagues, they have not been adopted in the NHL. The league and the players’ union are revisiting the issue of cut-resistant materials in light of the recent tragedy.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman notes the current freedom for players to wear protective gear and suggests that mandates could be discussed with the players’ association.

The necessity of protective gear is not lost on the players. Ross Colton and Nicolas Hague from the NHL speak to their personal choices and experiences with safety equipment. Similarly, Kyle Okposo of the Sabres and Carolina captain Jordan Staal acknowledge the risks inherent in the sport and the importance of protective gear.

As the hockey community grapples with this recent tragedy, the conversation about safety gear becomes more urgent, with many hoping it will lead to necessary changes in the sport.

Contributions to this report were made by AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo and AP freelance reporter Willie G. Ramirez.

For more information, visit Big Big News NHL Section.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about hockey safety gear

What sparked the debate over safety gear in hockey?

The tragic death of an American player, who was cut by a skate blade in the neck during a game in England, has reignited discussions over the use of cut-resistant neck protection in hockey.

Why is there resistance to change in hockey regarding protective gear?

Change in hockey has traditionally been slow due to the sport’s culture, with some players expressing discomfort with certain protective gear and a general reluctance to alter traditional practices.

Are neck guards mandatory in the NHL?

No, neck guards and cut-resistant materials for wrists or legs are not mandatory in the NHL.

What incident increased the use of cut-resistant socks among players?

Erik Karlsson’s Achilles tendon injury in 2013 significantly raised awareness and adoption of cut-resistant socks among players.

What actions are being taken following the recent player death in England?

Manufacturers like Bauer Hockey have pledged to work on making neck guards more accessible and possibly mandatory, and discussions have resumed between the NHL and the players’ association about safety gear mandates.

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HockeyMom123 November 5, 2023 - 11:08 am

Everytime my kid hits the ice I worry, this kind of news just makes it worse, we need change now not after another tragedy

StaceyPucks November 5, 2023 - 12:02 pm

i think comfort is a big deal for players they wont wear something if it feels off, but safety’s gotta come first right

MikeHockeyFan November 5, 2023 - 7:18 pm

man, it’s such a tragedy about Johnson i can’t believe we’re still talking about whether or not to wear neck guards should be a no brainer…

OldTimerJim November 6, 2023 - 5:45 am

back in the day we didn’t have all this fancy gear, but times change gotta protect the players, leagues need to step up here

RookieCard87 November 6, 2023 - 6:28 am

its crazy that some guys still don’t wear cut resistant stuff, after what happened to Karlsson and now Johnson, they really should


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