The NHL should mandate safety gear to protect players

On Oct. 28, Adam Johnson, an American hockey player, died after his neck was cut by a skate blade during a game. Johnson was 29 years old, playing for the Nottingham Panthers. The incident occurred in a Challenge Cup game that took place at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena in England.

Johnson’s death resulted in USA Hockey mandating neck laceration protection for all players under the age of 18, even in the Olympics. This rule becomes effective on Aug. 1. Since the accident, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has also made a requirement for neck guards for players participating in all levels of tournaments under its jurisdiction.

This mandate is crucial to the NHL and everyone in the ice skating community worldwide should be moving towards the same goal. Neck protectors aren’t required in the NCAA, American Hockey League, or ECHL. It is an easy solution to so many safety concerns.

The NHL has been discussing the issue of cut-resistant gear mandates for years now. Just two years ago, Teddy Balkind, a 16-year-old Connecticut high school player, died from a cut to the neck. However, nothing has been done because it would require an agreement between the league and the union.

A rule about helmets also took a long time to be enacted back in its day. In 1968, Bill Masterton, playing for the Minnesota North Stars, died from his head hitting the ice during a game, but nothing was done after that occurred. In fact, it took 29 years for the NHL to mandate helmets. At the time, it seemed impossible to adapt such a rule into the game, just like neck guards are seen now. Although, we now see the importance of players wearing helmets.

This mandate shares similarities with other recent mandates in sports aimed at improving player safety and well-being. For example, in American football, various rules and equipment changes have been implemented to reduce the risk of head injuries and concussions. The NFL has made over 50 rule changes since 2002. Recently, a new rule has been changed to prevent players from using their helmet or face mask to butt or make forcible contact with an opponent’s head or neck area.

Similarly, in other contact sports like rugby, there have been initiatives to improve player safety through rule modifications and equipment advancements. The Rugby Football Union implemented a rule in 2023 that said players were only allowed to tackle from the waist down.

The death of Johnson and many other similar incidents remind us of dangers within hockey and other sports, and the need for more safety measures. The new mandates from USA Hockey and the IIHF show a proactive approach to the issue. However, it is disappointing that the NHL will not adopt the same requirement. As discussions continue between the officials, player safety must be put above all else.


Featured photo courtesy Cottonbro Studio, Pexels