The Pittsburgh Penguins are mandating neck guards for their players with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL and the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL following the tragic death of Adam Johnson last Saturday.
Johnson, 29, died after a skate blade cut his neck during an English league game. The Penguins tribute to Johnson Monday night prior to their game against the Anaheim Ducks included a tribute video and both teams standing in a circle at center ice. Johnson was part of the Penguins organization for three seasons, including being a part of the 2020 bubble playoffs in Toronto, and played 13 NHL games.
While the Penguins players discussed adding the protective gear on Monday morning, with some signaling an openness to it, none confirmed to PHN that they would. Now, the organization is taking action where it can.
“Our American League team has mandated that they are going to wear neck guards and wrist guards. Our East Coast League team (will) as well,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We can’t do that at the NHL level, but we can certainly strongly encourage, and that’s our hope.”
On Monday, Penguins defenseman P.O Joseph said he expected players to speak with NHLPA about the issue but also seemed to join most players in downplaying a need for wearing the extra equipment.
“Growing up, we all had those neck protectors. And I think (players will) definitely touch the subject in the next talks — with the equipment stuff,” Joseph said. “But I think it’s just an unfortunate bounce. Things like that happen so many times during the season (without consequence).”
NHL rules prohibit teams from mandating that equipment.
“You always keep evolving on different things,” said defenseman Kris Letang on Monday. “The game is not going any slower, it’s going faster. And I wouldn’t be surprised (if gear is added).
“Hopefully, as we league, we can work towards developing more options for guys in the protective department with respect to these areas,” said Sullivan. Hopefully, there will be an initiative here moving forward. I think that could be one of the positive things that could come out of this terrible, terrible tragedy.”
The Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), where Johnson played this season, has already mandated them for all players. Also according to the league statement, Johnson’s team, the Nottingham Panthers, as well as their opponents on Saturday, the Sheffield Steelers, have postponed games through this coming weekend.