The English Ice Hockey Association has made a “strong recommendation” for all players to use protective neck guards, with the equipment set to become a mandatory requirement in January 2024.
The EIHA’s decision to mandate neck guards comes after the death of Nottingham Panthers forward Adam Johnson, who was fatally injured by a skate blade during a Challenge Cup game versus the Sheffield Steelers on Saturday [28 October].
“Undoubtedly, this moment in time casts a sombre shadow upon our global sporting community, serving as a stark reminder of our collective responsibilities for custodians of the sport,” wrote a spokesperson for the EIHA.
“As in all sports, the safety of our players must take precedence above all else. We are firmly committed to our obligation to exhaust every possible means to ensure that a tragic incident of this nature never befalls our sport again.”
In partnership with Ice Hockey UK and Scottish Ice Hockey, the EIHA unveiled short-, medium-, and long-term actions to improve player safety on Monday [30 October], starting with a “strong recommendation” for all players to wear neck guards from now on.
“This “strong recommendation” is in place until 31 December 2023, after which it will become a mandatory requirement,” wrote the EIHA. “It is not mandatory with immediate effect due to anticipated supply issues. This will be under constant review between now and mandatory implementation.”
Within the next year, the EIHA will conduct a review into player safety equipment, including helmets, mouthguards, and facial protection.
“It is unacceptable for any player to lose their life while playing sport,” added the EIHA. “Our responsibility is not only to avert the recurrence of such a heart-breaking accident, but also to pre-emptively address other foreseeable incidents in the future.
“We bear both a legal and a moral obligation to respond in a measured and pragmatic way. There is a distinct likelihood that comprehensive evaluations will transpire at the international level, and the EIHA is committed to taking an active and constructive role in this comprehensive process.”
Internationally, neck guard attitudes shift after the death of former NHLer Adam Johnson
Since Johnson’s death, players and teams around the world have implemented new safety measures.
Several players from the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins, including Boston Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell, added neck protection to their uniform on Sunday [29 October], while Rochester Americans head coach Seth Appert announced that his organisation placed an order for neck guards and protective base layers for its players.
In the National Ice Hockey League Southern Division, the Oxford City Stars became the first English club to mandate neck guards, with the Whitley Warriors and Peterborough Phantoms quick to follow.
“This decision reinforces our dedication to player safety,” said Shane Moore, the director of hockey operations for the Stars.
“We want to ensure that every possible measure is taken to protect our athletes while they are doing what they love. Safety must be a fundamental aspect of our actions, and we are grateful to all our players and coaching staff for their support in moving this initiative forward. We hope to serve as positive role models for both current and future players, showcasing that safety should always be the top priority.
“A life has tragically been taken too soon in a freak accident, and if wearing neck guards can prevent another devastating loss, then we want to ensure we have done everything within our power to protect our players.”
Tributes for Nottingham Panthers forward Adam Johnson continue
The hockey world has united in paying tribute to Johnson since the the 29-year-old’s death was announced on Sunday.
“The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of former Pittsburgh Penguin Adam Johnson. Our prayers and deepest condolences go to his family, friends and teammates,” the NHL wrote in a statement.
Many of Johnson’s former clubs held in-arena tributes in his memory, with the AHL’s Ontario Reign naming him as their first star following a 5-3 win over the Abbotsford Canucks.
Forever in our hearts. pic.twitter.com/oGkbtjANPN
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) October 30, 2023
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who iced Johnson in more than a dozen major league games, added: “We join the entire hockey world in mourning the loss of Adam Johnson, whose life tragically ended far too soon.
“We offer our deepest condolences to Adam’s family and friends, as well as all of Adam’s past and present teammates and coaches. Adam will always be a part of the Penguins family. It was out honour to watch him fulfil his dream of playing in the NHL.”