1:00 AM UTC – November 2, 2023
(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) and the union representing its players have been in contact regarding further safety measures after a player in Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League died when an opposing player’s skate blade cut his neck.
American forward Adam Johnson’s death, described as a “freak accident” by his team and being investigated by British police, sparked a dialogue on whether players at all levels of the game should be forced to wear neck protection.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in an ESPN report on Wednesday that the league wants to prioritize protection but added that players have the right to make decisions for themselves.
“Whether it’s something that’s mandated directly or on a phased-in basis, that’s something we’ll discuss with the players’ association,” Bettman said after a news conference at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where two outdoor NHL games will be played in February.
According to the report, Bettman said the issue of neck protection is not new and the NHL and National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) already had a joint committee looking at ways to better protect players from cuts to the wrist, leg or worse.
The English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), which is the sport’s governing body in England and Wales, said this week the safety of players must take precedence above all else and made neck guards mandatory from Jan. 1 for all on-ice activities.
The EIHA did not make neck guards mandatory with immediate effect due to anticipated supply issues but made a “strong recommendation” that players at all levels across English Ice Hockey start using a neck guard.
The NHL/NHLPA Protective Subcommittee has been working to make sure players have access to cut-resistant equipment to address injuries to arms and legs that have occurred in recent years.
The NHLPA also educates players each year on the benefits of wearing the cut-resistant equipment so they can make informed equipment choices.
NHLPA Executive Director Marty Walsh, who was at the same news conference with Bettman, said everything was on the table when it came to potential equipment changes.
“We’re going to explore everything,” Walsh said in the ESPN report. “It’s in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. I think we have to continue to have conversations on this as we move forward here.”
Later on Wednesday, the Western Hockey League (WHL), a junior league based in Western Canada, announced that it would make neck guard protection mandatory for all players beginning on Friday or as soon as the equipment was available to clubs.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, additional reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Ed Osmond and Michael Perry