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PWHL discussing whether to adopt neck guard policy after Adam Johnson’s death

The Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) is discussing whether to adopt a policy on neck guards after the death of American hockey player Adam Johnson in England last Saturday.

Players' association executive director Brian Burke says he guesses neck guards will become mandatory

A Canadian female hockey player points her finger as she is embraced by a teammate.

The Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) is discussing whether to adopt a policy on neck guards after the death of American hockey player Adam Johnson in England last Saturday.

A league spokesperson says discussions on the issue of a neck guard policy are ongoing, but the direction is still undecided. The PWHL is working on creating a number of policies and protocols before the new league is set to begin playing games in January.

Brian Burke, executive director of the PWHL players' association, said he's guessing the league will mandate neck guards.

Burke said everyone's attention has been focused on the issue.

"[Anywhere] where they play hockey, they're looking at this now. Every level." he said.

Johnson's neck was cut by a skate blade in what his club, the Nottingham Panthers, described as a "freak accident" during the second period of a Champions Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers.

He was transported to a hospital, where he died. The 29-year-old Minnesota native was in his first season with the U.K.'s Elite Ice Hockey League, and had previously played in several other leagues, including 13 games with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Johnson's death prompted tributes throughout the hockey world, along with a reckoning on how to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

New policy in Western Hockey League

Earlier this week, the English Ice Hockey Association mandated neck guards from the beginning of 2024.

And on Thursday, the Western Hockey League announced it will require players to wear neck guards beginning Friday or as soon as teams can get the equipment. Neck guards were already mandatory in the two other major junior hockey leagues in Canada, the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Canadian Press reported that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL players' association executive director Marty Walsh have made plans to meet and discuss the issue.

The NHL can't mandate players to wear the equipment without the players' association agreeing, but some NHL players have already started wearing neck guards. Photos posted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Johnson's previous team, showed a few players wearing them on Thursday.

"Just trying it out, it is available for us," Erik Karlsson said, according to the Penguins account on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"I don't think it is a bad thing, and I'll probably try it out for a bit and see if I can get accustomed to it and go from there."

Neck guards mandatory for Canada's women's team

Hockey Canada already requires members of its national women's program to wear neck guards.

They're also required for the national Para hockey team program and Hockey Canada's men's Program of Excellence, which includes players on the U17, U18 and the U20 World Junior teams, but not senior national men's teams.

"Hockey Canada strongly encourages the use of neck guards for all participants regardless of age, including members of its national teams," a spokesperson with Hockey Canada said in a statement to CBC Sports.

Neck guards aren't required for members of the American women's national team, though USA Hockey recommends players wear neck laceration protection and Kevlar cut-resistant socks, sleeves and undergarments.

Former Canadian women's national team star Hayley Wickenheiser, who is a resident physician, has called for neck protection to be mandatory at every level in hockey.

"The risk is far too great not to," Wickenheiser, who is also an assistant general manager with the Toronto Maple Leafs, posted on X this week.


Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. You can reach her at karissa.donkin@cbc.ca.

    With files from The Canadian Press

    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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