The issue of player safety in hockey, particularly regarding cut-resistant protection, has once again come into the spotlight following the tragic death of former NHL player Adam Johnson.
Johnson died as a result of a cut to the neck from a skate blade during a game in England. This incident has reignited the long-standing debate over why more players do not wear cut-resistant gear, which could potentially save lives.
In the sport of hockey, changes tend to happen slowly, if they happen at all. For instance, it took until 1979 for the NHL to mandate the use of helmets and goalie masks for new players.
Even as recently as 2013, eye-protecting visors became mandatory, though they were grandfathered in for veteran players, and some players still choose not to wear them.
Despite numerous cases of players suffering injuries such as broken jaws, smashed noses, and concussions due to high-speed collisions on the ice, there has been no mandate for full-face shields or cages in professional men’s hockey at any level.
This fact raises questions about why more has not been done to protect players from the potentially life-threatening injuries that can occur during a game.
Neck guards are not currently mandatory in the NHL, and there is no requirement for cut protection for wrists or the back of players’ legs, which are often more vulnerable areas than the heavily guarded shoulders and elbows.
Many players express concerns about the comfort of wearing protective gear, as it can sometimes feel odd or restrictive on the ice. However, some players have adopted socks made of Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used in bulletproof vests, and Cutlon, a fabric used in shark bite-resistant suits.
Erik Karlsson, a well-known player in the NHL, wishes he had been wearing cut-proof socks when a skate blade from Matt Cooke sliced through his left Achilles tendon in 2013.
This injury marked a turning point in players’ attitudes towards protective gear, as more began to wear cut-resistant socks for added safety.
Hockey is a sport where skate cuts are not uncommon, and many players have experienced such injuries or witnessed them firsthand. In some cases, players have been cut and continued playing after receiving stitches, emphasizing the toughness of hockey players.
The death of Adam Johnson, who died from a skate blade cut to the neck, has prompted renewed discussions about player safety. Advocates of mandatory neck guards believe that this tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for the sport to address these safety concerns more seriously.
The reluctance to mandate protective gear is partially rooted in concerns about comfort on the ice. However, many players and figures within the hockey community are beginning to recognize the importance of such gear.
Prominent companies like Bauer Hockey have pledged to work with other equipment manufacturers to make neck guards more widely available and, eventually, mandatory. The England Ice Hockey Association recently made neck guards mandatory, setting an example for others to follow.
While mandates exist in some youth hockey programs, there is currently no requirement for cut-resistant protection in the NHL. However, league and union leaders have been studying cut-resistant materials for years and have recently resumed discussions about implementing these safety measures.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed that players are free to wear protective gear, and the possibility of mandating it is a topic of discussion with the players’ association. The slow pace of change in hockey is a notable challenge, with safety improvements often coming in response to tragic incidents.
NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh emphasized that, ultimately, hockey is a game, but players should be able to go to work and return home safely. He aims to have these discussions about safety with players across the NHL, and there are signs that attitudes within the sport are gradually changing.
Many players, including those with personal experiences of injuries, have begun wearing cut-resistant gear willingly, even if it feels somewhat unusual. The mindset among players is that while there are risks associated with the sport, taking precautions is always a smart decision.
The death of Adam Johnson from a skate blade cut to the neck has once again highlighted the need for increased safety measures in hockey.
Despite a history of resistance to change, advocates are pushing for the introduction of mandatory neck guards and cut-resistant gear to protect players from severe injuries.
While comfort concerns remain, there is a growing recognition of the importance of prioritizing player safety in the sport. The slow pace of change in hockey is a significant obstacle, but the tragic incident involving Johnson has prompted renewed discussions about player safety.