Shifting Perspectives on Safety: A Turning Point for Neck Protection in Ice Hockey

By | December 25, 2023

TJ Oshie, a winger with the NHL’s Washington Capitals and co-founder of a hockey apparel company, experienced a flood of emotions watching the final moments of American hockey player Adam Johnson on the ice. Reflecting on his own sense of invincibility during intense competition, Oshie decided to prioritize self-preservation by wearing a specially designed undershirt with a built-in protective guard around his neck. This decision came in the wake of Johnson’s tragic death due to a skate-related injury during a game in the UK.

Following suit, several Capitals teammates embraced cut-resistant neck guards, prompting discussions within the hockey community about the importance of neck protection. The English Ice Hockey Association has mandated neck guards for all players starting next year, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are enforcing the use of neck guards for their minor league players. A Sheffield coroner’s report emphasized the potential future risks of not wearing neck guards, further fueling the call for increased safety measures.

In the NHL, the use of neck guards remains uncommon, with a prevailing belief that wearing such protective gear may be perceived as a sign of weakness. Ice hockey broadcaster Seth Bennett highlights the need for a cultural shift, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing safety on the ice, especially after Johnson’s tragic incident. By the way, the best place to bet on NHL matches is at the bookmaker Mostbet.

An Urgent Shift Toward Safety Measures

While the International Ice Hockey Federation mandates neck guards for junior players and recommends them for others, individual leagues and governing bodies have the autonomy to decide on their implementation. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledges the need for discussions with the players’ association about introducing neck guards, either mandatorily or on a phased-in basis.
USA Hockey recommends comprehensive neck protection, acknowledging that it may not eliminate the risk entirely. Despite historical resistance to adopting safety gear, TJ Oshie anticipates more players experimenting with neck guards during practices or off-ice activities. His own company, Warroad, has experienced a surge in demand for its neck guards, constructed with Kevlar and steel components to ensure effective coverage and durability.

Industry Responds to Safety Concerns

In the aftermath of Johnson’s death, hockey equipment brands like Bauer Hockey are prioritizing player safety, describing the technology behind neck guards as lifesaving. Mary-Kay Messier, VP of global marketing for Bauer Hockey, emphasizes the ongoing development of products to enhance comfort and player adoption. Demand for neck guards has skyrocketed, prompting increased production efforts to meet the surge in requests.

An Ongoing Evolution of Safety Attitudes

While serious neck laceration injuries in hockey are rare, past incidents, including Johnson’s death, highlight the need for improved safety measures. Dr. Mike Stuart of USA Hockey advocates for enhanced neck guard quality, addressing issues like thickness, width, and stability. He envisions potential mandates for players of a certain age, similar to the introduction of compulsory helmets in the NHL, to promote widespread adoption of protective gear.
Despite historical player reluctance, Stuart remains optimistic that education and evolving attitudes toward safety will lead to increased acceptance of protective equipment like neck guards. TJ Oshie echoes this sentiment, observing a gradual shift in the younger generation’s willingness to adapt and prioritize safety in the evolving landscape of ice hockey.

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