Ever since the tragic passing of Adam Johnson during a hockey game in England, many leagues and players have taken it upon themselves to look into wearing neck guards. The English Ice Hockey Association announced days after Johnson’s death that neck guards will be mandatory starting in 2024. The WHL also announced that it was making neck protection mandatory. While it hasn’t become mandatory in the NHL as of yet, many players, including some on the Flyers, have become testing the product out.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were the first NHL to mandate that their AHL and ECHL teams use the neck protection. The two leagues have not made it mandatory for all teams, however teams have them if players choose to wear them. And while the NHL has no mandate at this time, players have begun to wear them in practices and games. Players on the Jets, Penguins, Blues, and now Flyers are among those in the NHL protecting themselves.
It was the veterans leading the way in Philadelphia as Travis Konecny, Cam Atkinson, and Travis Sanheim were the three sporting the new addition at practice on Friday morning.
For Atkinson and Konecny, the want to protect themselves for their families was part of the reason to adopt the neck guard. Atkinson is a father of three and Konecny’s wife gave birth to their second child this summer.
"“I just look at it from the standpoint of the amount of years of playing hockey compared to being a dad,” Konecny said after practice on Friday. “For me, it’s a no-brainer to put it on. It doesn’t matter, even if it is hot during the game, too bad. Figure out a way to cool down.”"
Konecny and Atkinson will begin wearing them during games starting with Saturday’s afternoon matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights. The shirts that both were wearing were from the company founded by Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, who had also begun wearing them recently. For Sanheim, he’ll have to wait a bit longer before getting one he can officially wear. The shirt he wore during Friday’s practice was just a sample as he’ll have to wait for the company to make more, something he was uncertain as to when they would have them.
With the initiative starting with some of the Flyers veteran players, it might make it easier for those on the fence to begin using them when they see the older players doing so. And if the entire team gets on board with it at some point, even better according to Sanheim.
"“Eventually we can have every guy wearing it because I think that’s where it’s going to go to. I think that’s where it needs to go to. … It can happen to any one of us on any given night. So, if we can take protections and not have that happen I think that will be a good thing.”"
A neck guard has already recently saved the life of a player in Ontario as he was cut on the neck by a skate this past week. It can happen at any time so the more players and leagues that begin to wear them, the safer everyone can be. And for those players in the NHL, they also have an opportunity to show younger players how important it is to be as safe as possible and that it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look “cool.” In the end, it shouldn’t be about waiting for another tragedy to happen to allow change. Finding ways to be safer now is the goal at the end of the day.