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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Is not wearing a neck guard in ice hockey worth the risk?

Quinnipiac+men%E2%80%99s+ice+hockey+graduate+student+forward+Zach+Tupker+wearing+protective+neck+equipment+in+a+Feb.+23+game+against+Brown.+
Tripp Menhall
Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey graduate student forward Zach Tupker wearing protective neck equipment in a Feb. 23 game against Brown.

In ice hockey, players wear protective gear at all times, including helmets, face masks, gloves and various body pads. But there’s one area of the body that isn’t often protected, which could have deadly consequences if hit by a skate blade: the neck.

The debate over whether hockey players should wear neck guards was reignited in October 2023 during a match beteween the Elite Ice Hockey League’s Sheffield Steelers and the Nottingham Panthers. Near the end of the second period, Steelers player Matt Petgrave’s leg kicked up and sliced Panthers forward former NHLer Adam Johnson in the neck. Johnson received immediate medical attention but was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Neck guards are not typically mandated for college and professional players, but following Johnson’s death, many organizations are working to change that. The England Ice Hockey Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation made neck guards mandatory starting in 2024. However, the NHL has not made neck guards mandatory.

Some NHL players have chosen to wear the guards anyway, including T.J. Oshie. The Washington Capitals winger is the founder of Warroad Hockey, a company that makes protective hockey gear. While he isn’t the only player to wear a neck guard, a recent poll from The Athletic shows that a majority of the players don’t want a potential mandate.

Nearly 80% of NHL players polled regarding a neck guard requirement were against it. Some of the players polled, even one who had been cut by a skate, said that it was the player’s choice.

It’s understandable that players might find the guards uncomfortable or itchy, especially if they’re not used to wearing them, but flat-out refusing to wear the hockey equivalent of a turtleneck in order to lessen the chances of dying is ridiculous. No player is immune to accidents, and just because it hasn’t happened to you doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Freak accidents can happen to anyone at any time, which Quinnipiac alum Rachel Ross knows all too well.

Army ice hockey played a game against Sacred Heart in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on Jan. 5, 2023. During the second period, a Sacred Heart player’s leg kicked up and cut then-junior Army forward Eric Huss in the neck, an incident which was scarily similar to Johnson’s. 

Thankfully, Ross, the then-senior associate athletic trainer for Army, vaulted over the boards and rushed to apply pressure to Huss’ neck. He was rushed to the hospital while Ross sat on top of his stretcher and kept her hand on the wound throughout the drive.

“We rolled into the hospital, looking all Grey’s Anatomy-like,” Ross said in an interview with The Chronicle on Jan. 3. “His care team took over and he was rushed into surgery.”

Ross, who graduated from Quinnipiac’s sports medicine program in 2016, had never dealt with that kind of injury before.

“A major laceration like that is not very common,” Ross said. “In general, it’s happened two or three times in a year now, but prior to that it must have been a couple of years since it happened.”

Huss has since returned to the ice for Army and along with five of his teammates, wears a neck guard in every practice and game. But Ross highlighted an important flaw with their new gear.

“I think we need some better technology to really protect all of the structures in the neck,” Ross said. “The neck guard that (Huss) currently wears wouldn’t have helped him when he got injured; the injury was too high up and his neck guard wouldn’t quite reach.”

On paper, neck guards are a good idea. The neck is a very exposed part of the body that contains major arteries, which can have deadly consequences if struck. However, current technology is not advanced enough to protect athletes all of the time. Is it worth it to still wear them?

The answer is absolutely. Hockey is a fun game that some people are lucky enough to get paid for. Under no circumstances should players risk death when on the ice, and frankly it’s ridiculous that the NHL has not insituted a neck guard mandate. It’s understandable that players are uncomfortable and get hot, but it’s a small price to pay to stay alive.

The same goes for collegiate-level players. Accidents happen all the time, and no student should ever have to experience what Huss went through.

Even if neck guards aren’t 100% effective, they’re not 0%, either. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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Tripp Menhall, Creative Director

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    KyleIsThisTallMar 12, 2024 at 2:54 am

    Victim blaming when it was obvious that the karate kick attack was intentional, especially since Matt Petgrrave – and all ilk of his species – have a long history of horrific violence.

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    Kathleen M CraddockFeb 29, 2024 at 5:49 pm

    Casey, great article on neck guards. Keep up the great work.. Proud of you. Hugs, A, Kathy

    Reply