OHS Canada Magazine

Wickenheiser calls for neck protection at ‘every level’ after hockey player’s death

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October 30, 2023
By The Canadian Press

Health & Safety Hockey sports

(Amy Walters/Adobe Stock)

The hockey world is reacting to a tragic on-ice accident and wondering what steps should be taken to prevent it from happening again.

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser is calling for mandated neck protection at “every level in hockey” after former NHL player Adam Johnson died from a cut by a skate blade during a game in England on Saturday.

Wickenheiser completed medical school after her women’s hockey career with Canada and currently works as an assistant general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

She says not wearing protection poses far too great a risk, even if it’s not in style.

“I know it may not pass the ‘cool’ factor but it’s time for mandatory neck protection at every level in hockey. The risk is far too great not to,” said Wickenheiser in a post offering her condolences to Johnson’s family on X platform, formerly known as Twitter.


Although neck guards are not mandatory in the NHL, the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League require players to wear neck guards. It’s also obligatory for Hockey Canada players registered in minor or women’s hockey.

Johnson, a Minnesota native who played 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was on the ice for the Elite Ice Hockey League’s Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers when he suffered the skate cut during the second period.

The English Ice Hockey Association, the sport’s governing body in England and Wales, announced Monday that neck guards will be mandatory across all levels of English hockey effective Dec. 31.

The association noted they can’t apply the rules immediately due to supply chain issues.

Winnipeg Jets interim head coach Scott Arniel says he expects the NHL to look into the use of increased protection.

Arniel was a forward for the Buffalo Sabres when his teammate, goalie Clint Malarchuk, took a skate blade to the neck on March 22, 1989.

“I was firsthand and I saw this happen in a game myself, and it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen,” Arniel told reporters in Winnipeg. “Where it goes next, I know in minor hockey that it’s already a rule and in junior hockey, so we’ll see.

“The league is probably going to look into this and they’ll make a decision moving forward.”

Malarchuk survived the life-threatening injury but developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Former Montreal Canadiens forward Richard Zednik suffered a similar incident in 2008.

Boston Bruins forward Jakub Lauko avoided a serious injury as recently as last Tuesday when he took a skate blade near his left eye after falling to the ice against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said he’s thought about the use of neck protection before and suggested it might be a next step in making the game safer.

“At one point goalies weren’t wearing helmets, and the game has evolved and continues to get safer and safer,” Tavares told reporters in Toronto. “That’s certainly probably an aspect that needs to continue to be looked at further, as one incident like that is too many.”

Jets centre Mark Scheifele expects there to be many conversations about increased neck protection in the coming days, much like after Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane sustained a severe wrist injury due to a skate blade cut last year.

“When Evander Kane got his wrist cut, we obviously evaluated more wrist protections and stuff like that,” Scheifele said. “I’m sure there’s going to be talks about it and it’ll come down to kind of more of an individual decision on what to do.”


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