The hockey world was in shock after Nottingham Panthers forward Adam Johnson died from an accidental slash to his neck by a Matt Petgrave skate during an EIHL game last Saturday.
That shock extended to the San Jose Sharks dressing room today.
“He is a guy that I coached against,” San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn, who was behind the bench at Boston University when Johnson played at Minnesota-Duluth, said today. “A lot of people know him and it really hits the hockey community hard. I spoke with [Johnson’s former coach at Minnesota-Duluth] Scott Sandelin yesterday. It was just a real tragic incident.”
With Johnson’s death being caused by an errant skate to the neck, many around hockey are wondering if neck protection should become mandatory for players.
The EIHL will make neck protection mandatory starting in 2024. The Pittsburgh Penguins organization, who Johnson played with from 2017 to 2020, will also follow suit with their AHL and ECHL affiliates.
For NHL players, however, the NHLPA would have to approve any new equipment requirements. But what happened to Johnson already has some of the Sharks thinking.
“It was awful what happened. I couldn’t even watch it, I kinda just heard it and all of it is terrible,” Tomas Hertl said.
“Nobody wants to see that and the neck is something we have to look into, for sure. Everybody wants to be protected from these crazy injuries.”
Hertl said the league already had a meeting with the players before the season, encouraging cut-resistant wrist guards and socks before the season started, inspired in part by a scary Evander Kane wrist injury last year.
But wearing more equipment, even as a protective measure, can be a divisive issue for hockey players, because in some cases, the added equipment restricts their motion on the ice.
But with technological advances, more players could be open to change.
“Same with the visors, right?” forward Ryan Carpenter said. “At some point, they made a ban that if you were a certain age, you had to wear the visor. Maybe some guys didn’t like it at first, but we eventually get used to that stuff.”
Carpenter, like many other players, has been using cut-resistant socks for a while, but his wrist guards are new. He said they have not impacted his game negatively.
“I take face-offs, so my hands are already low, so my wrist could be exposed if a guy fell,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to it. They’re a little tight when you first put them on.”
Hertl admitted to being accustomed to feeling loose around his wrists, so he doesn’t wear additional protection there.
Neck guards in particular have not been in players’ arsenal for a while.
Hertl, 30, has not used one since he was 17.
Mario Ferraro, a 25-year-old San Jose Sharks defenseman, has not worn one since he was 15.
Carpenter, 32, has not worn one since bantams or midgets.
“It’s hard. I haven’t thought about the neck guard much, but as hockey players, I think the challenge is feeling comfortable in your gear,” Ferraro said. “Being able to move comfortably out there is the biggest challenge for us wearing them, but given the sad events that have occurred, we’re all aware of it. It should be more pushed or advised, for sure.”
“I’d probably try to wear something, if it’s comfortable,” Hertl offered.
“To still be able to perform and it not limit you on the ice, I’m sure guys will now be open to it. I definitely would be,” Carpenter said. “Stuff happens in a sport so fast and I’m a dad with two kids. If it doesn’t inhibit you on the ice, you want to be safe and be careful.”
“Hopefully,” Quinn said, “players realize the importance of maybe wearing neck guards.”
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