The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tyler Bertuzzi recently became the first NHL player to wear a neck guard in a game since former NHL player Adam Johnson died after his throat was slashed by another player’s skate.
Johnson died after colliding with Matt Petgrave during a game in England.
Which NHL players wear neck guards?
Bertuzzi started wearing a neck guard during practice before he decided to wear one while playing in a game Friday, according to Sportsnet. He has since been joined by teammate Simon Benoit in wearing the additional cut-resistant protection when out on the ice.
Teammate Mark Giordano has also been testing out different versions of neck guards while practicing but hasn’t yet settled on one he’s comfortable wearing throughout a game.
Bertuzzi previously suffered his own scary cut while on the ice, according to The Hockey News. In 2022, his wrist was cut, and he was forced to leave the game.
Because he doesn’t wear a shirt under his pads, Bertuzzi chose a standalone guard instead of one sewn into a shirt.
“This one was pretty comfy and it goes pretty high,” he said. “It gets a little hot at times but I’ll take it off on the bench and I’ll probably continue to use it.”
Are NHL players required to wear neck guards?
The NHL does not currently require its players to wear neck guards.
While neck guard mandates have emerged in minor hockey leagues, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, Johnson’s former NHL coach, said they “can’t do that at the NHL level, but we can certainly strongly encourage” players to wear them, as the Deseret News previously reported.
The Elite Ice Hockey League in England, where Johnson played, has strongly recommended its players to wear neck guards and will make the additional equipment mandatory at the conclusion of the year, the league announced in a player safety update after Johnson’s death.
USA Hockey, the country’s hockey governing board, only recommends the use of neck guards, but a mandate could be on the way.
On Nov. 11, its board of directors unanimously voted on a request for its safety and protective equipment committee to “begin the process of recommending a potential change to its current rule regarding neck laceration protection,” The Rink Live reported.
A rule change would not affect the NHL but would apply to the United States Hockey League, North American Hockey League and North American 3 Hockey League.
Why did Simon Benoit decide to wear a neck guard?
After the death of Johnson, Benoit’s girlfriend pleaded with him to start wearing a neck guard while playing.
“Everybody knows it’s a risk,” he said to Sportsnet. “My girlfriend was like, ‘I want you to wear one.’ She wasn’t panicking or anything, but she was scared. I said, ‘I’ll look into it.’ So, I tried it. Didn’t mind it.”
Benoit thinks Johnson’s death has and will continue to change how players view wearing neck guards, as well as other protective layers. He doesn’t feel the neck guard while wearing it and said “it’s just a question of look.”
“Once that happened, I feel like you won’t get chirped on the ice for wearing a neck guard anymore,” he said. “Everybody’s more conscious. Like, it’s not just about style. It’s for your own protection, right?”
Benoit has seen the dangers of the sport up close. While playing in the American Hockey League as a rookie in 2018, he watched as teammate Jack Kopacka’s wrist was slashed.
“It could have been really bad. I remember just blood,” he told Sportsnet. “So, all his teammates, everybody, were like: ‘We’re doing wrist guards.’ So, I just got used to it as well.”
In addition to neck and wrist guards, Benoit wears cut-resistant ankle sleeves and shot-blockers on his skates to protect his feet from pucks. He hopes to set an example for young hockey players to take their safety seriously.
“Now, if kids can look at me and think, ‘Oh, he’s wearing it, so maybe I should be wearing one, too,’ that’s good,” he said. “And it all comes from that accident. If you can take that and use it as positive, you should.”
Are police investigating Adam Johnson’s death?
Police in the United Kingdom arrested a man “on suspicion of manslaughter” on Nov. 14 while conducting their investigation of Johnson’s death, the Deseret News previously reported.
The man was released on bail the next day, police said in a statement.