Johnson's death was confirmed to be a result of a fatal neck injury after a post-mortem examination — and now more players are considering wearing extra protective gear
After NHL player Adam Johnson's tragic death last month, members of the hockey community suggested the addition of cut-resistant neck guards to player uniforms. Now, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bertuzzi has become the first NHL player to compete in the added safety gear since the shocking tragedy on Oct 28.
During a game between the Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers, Johnson's neck was slashed by his opponent's skate when he collided with Steelers' Matt Petgrave. According to the BBC, Johnson's cause of death was confirmed to be a result of a fatal neck injury after a post-mortem examination.
The Panthers and Steelers play for England's Elite Ice Hockey League, but the tragedy sparked worldwide discourse concerning players' safety. According to NPR, cut-resistant neck guards sold out in certain areas following Johnson's death.
National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner Gary Bettman "strongly" encouraged players to wear neck guards during a press conference on Nov. 16, but the commissioner said his league hasn't "implemented mandatory equipment requirements" until a decision is made with the Players Association.
The topic "is something we've been discussing" with the PA's members, Bettman said while speaking to reporters. "But in the interim, players are free" to make their own decisions concerning neck guards.
After Toronto's 4-3 defeat in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, Bertuzzi, 28, spoke to The Hockey News about playing with the neck guard. "This one was pretty comfy, and it goes pretty high," he said, adding, "It gets a little hot at times but I’ll take it off on the bench.
Bertuzzi said that he will "probably continue to use it" as the season continues. In January 2021, he suffered a frightening laceration to his wrist during a game against the Anaheim Ducks. "It's always. a scary thing," he told the outlet.
Bertuzzi is the only player to wear a neck guard during an NHL game since Johnson's death, but his teammates, Mark Giordano and Simon Benoit, have been acclimating to playing with the guards during recent practices, according to Hockey News.
Giordano told the outlet he thinks "it's good that guys are using them across the league." He's also encouraged by "more and more guys starting to try different things" in regards to increased protection.
Players Valtteri Pulli and Jacob Peterson of the San Jose Sharks' affiliate team in the AHL, San Jose Barracuda, also wore neck guards during recent home games, according to San Jose Hockey Now.
Peterson said, “After the tragedy, [the Barracuda] equipment manager had four neck guards and asked if anyone wanted to wear one. So I figured I’d try it out and see if I minded it.”
Players are seemingly reluctant to add neck guards to their game uniforms due to the discomfort hindering their play on the ice, but Peterson told San Jose Hockey Now, “It really isn’t bad at all. I didn’t notice it much, so I figured I’d keep wearing it. I’ve worn them in the past so it wasn’t new for me.”
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Peterson added, “The technology has increased over the years,” Peterson said. “So it’s almost as if you’re not wearing anything after a while."
Before moving to the EIHL, Johnson played for the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Oct 31, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said his team has had "discussions" about the topic. "We are in the process right now of trying to talk to our players about some protective equipment in those vulnerable areas," he added.
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