Death of Hockey Player has Jumpstarted Work on Protective Equipment

The death of hockey player Adam Johnson due to a skate cut has spurred efforts to enhance protective equipment in the sport. Johnson, an American hockey player, suffered a fatal neck injury during a game in England, prompting discussions on preventing laceration injuries on the ice. This incident has led to considerations for new measures, including a mandate for young players in the United States.

It has also opened avenues for advancements in technology related to on-ice protection against skate blades. Although modern gear for wrist and leg protection is already widely available, incidents such as Columbus Blue Jackets rookie Adam Fantilli’s recent injury have highlighted the need for further improvements. Fantilli, wearing Kevlar socks, was cut by a skate blade, emphasizing that existing protection measures may not be foolproof.

The development of cut-proof neck guards remains an area that requires additional work. Dr. Michael Stuart, Chief Medical Officer for USA Hockey, sees this tragedy as an opportunity to enhance cut-resistant materials and designs, especially for vulnerable anatomical areas. USA Hockey has recently approved a neck guard mandate for players under 18 and others in junior, boys, or girls classifications up to age 20.

Protecting players from the sharp blades of skates has been a longstanding challenge in the sport. Terrifying incidents, such as the 1989 throat slash of goaltender Clint Malarchuk and a similar injury to Richard Zednik in 2008, have prompted ongoing efforts to improve safety measures. Cut-proof socks, for example, became mandatory for Philadelphia Flyers players after Claude Giroux’s injury in 2015.

Companies like Daredevil Hockey, founded by Gianfranco Talarico, have been producing cut-proof gear for over a decade. Talarico, motivated by witnessing a youth player’s injury, emphasizes that lacerations are more common than perceived. Hockey Canada has mandated neck guard protection for youth players for thirty years, while recent incidents, including the death of high school player Teddy Balkind, have reignited conversations about player safety.

Entrepreneurs are entering the market with innovative solutions, such as Kevlar neck protection and machines designed to reduce the cutting qualities of skate blades. The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced a mandate for neck guards at all levels of its tournaments. While the NHL currently lacks a mandate, efforts are underway to address the issue and enhance player safety in the wake of Johnson’s tragic death.