Hockey Death Sparks Protection Debate

Tribute to Adam Johnson | Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

The recent death of American ice hockey forward Adam Johnson while playing in a tournament in England last weekend has sparked further debate on the safety concerns and equipment requirements of the sport.

Johnson, a former NHL player with the Pittsburgh Penguins and other clubs, had skated across the blue line during the second period of a game against the Sheffield Steelers in the Elite Ice Hockey League when he was met with a controversial hit by an opposing player.

The player’s skate cut Johnson’s neck. Johnson was given treatment on the ice before being transported to a nearby hospital, where he later died from his injuries. Both teams left the ice, and fans in attendance were asked to leave the arena.

In the wake of the incident, many have debated the need for further protection from such incidents, such as adding a mandatory neck guard. While these types of injuries are not often as severe as what happened to Johnson, they have become common, and the speed and physicality of the game have been constantly monitored.

Only one player has ever died from injuries sustained during an NHL game. Still, more and more sports are implementing rules to protect their players, especially from concussions, and this adds another layer.

“It’s a game,” National Hockey League Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh told the Associated Press. “It’s a job for the players, but it’s something that you don’t want anyone when they go to work to not come home.”

The NHL does not currently implement any rules regarding protective wear for the neck and limbs. Still, according to the AP, several players have taken their own measures to try to prevent such injuries.

Applying mandatory equipment rule changes would be nothing new for the league, which used to allow players to compete without helmets and goalies to play without masks.

The most recent change in the NHL made visors mandatory to protect the eyes, but many still called for more changes, such as requiring fully caged masks to be worn as they are at the amateur and collegiate levels.

The league has also looked into using more “cut-resistant materials” in its gear. Whether the latest tragedy leads to more swift action than past incidents, however, remains to be seen.

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