Concern, to be sure, but nowhere near panic.
That’s the message out of the Edmonton Oilers dressing room this week following the tragic accident that led to the on-ice death of Adam Johnson during a Nottingham Panthers game in England on Saturday.
The 29-year-old former Pittsburgh Penguins player’s neck was sliced by the errant skate of opposing player Matt Petgrave. Johnson was transported to hospital where he succumbed to his injury, prompting debate across the hockey world over the use of neck guards.
The English Ice Hockey Association is strongly recommending players at all levels use a neck guard or protector during all on-ice activities. As of Jan. 1, 2024, it will become mandatory in the league.
Closer to home, the Western Hockey League announced Wednesday that neck guard protection will be mandatory as of Friday.
The NHL is also “strongly recommending” the same.
“Well, first and foremost, we’re thinking about Adam’s family and all of his loved ones,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “Such a tragic incident, but the game is so fast out there, the game is unpredictable at times and no matter how smart or well-prepared or how many years you’ve been playing the game, random things happen.”
As the Oilers saw a season ago, when Evander Kane was forced to miss more than two months after emergency surgery was required to repair his wrist, which was cut open by the skate of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Patrick Maroon.
“We obviously saw it last year with Evander,” McDavid said. “These cuts are really scary and I think you’re seeing a lot of cut-proof gear coming into play.
“Whether or not you see something around the neck, I don’t know. But really scary.”
The Oilers have three players from Sweden on their team, whose home country had already instituted mandatory neck guards following the 1995 death of 28-year-old Bengt Akerblom of the Swedish Elite League.
“I know after Evander’s incident, I was talking to our medical staff and they’re prepared to handle just about every situation on the ice,” McDavid said. “We put a lot of faith in those guys and know that they can handle just about anything.”
While cut-resistant socks and sleeves are gaining popularity, they replace pieces of equipment already worn by players. Neck guards can be seen as extra bulk that might slow a player down.
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“Obviously, comfort is important,” McDavid said. “But it’s also comfortable to know that you’re protected. That can bring a big comfort to guys.”
At the same time, McDavid isn’t calling for laceration protectors, whether it be on the neck, wrists or ankles, to become a league-wide mandate in the NHL just yet.
“I think it’s personal preference for everybody,” he said. “I see lots of guys have cut-proof stuff, I see some guys who don’t wear much at all. It’s all choice.
“With that being said, I think it’s a really fast game, these things happen but I know that our staff and everybody is well-equipped to handle pretty much all situations.”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge