Western Hockey League announces mandatory neck guard protection, effective Friday

Vincent Ethier/CHL Images Former Prince Albert Raider Kaiden Guhle wears a neck guard during the 2019 Memorial Cup in Halifax.

Mandatory neck protection for all players is coming to the Western Hockey League.

The league announced in a press release Wednesday afternoon that all players will be required to wear protective neck guard equipment during all on-ice activities including games and practices.

The announcement comes in response to the death of former NHL player Adam Johnson, who passed away in hospital after a freak accident caused the skate blade of an opposing player to cut his throat during an Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) game in England last Saturday. Johnson received emergency treatment and was transported to Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.

The game was immediately suspended because of the play and fans were asked to leave the building.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says the new rule could help prevent future incidents from becoming tragedies.

“If this is going to help one person, especially these kids being 16 to 20, with the velocity or speed of this game and just the way things go, something can happen. If you can protect them more on a freak accident, we’re all for it.”

Neck guards are mandatory in all levels of minor hockey in Saskatchewan.  Barry Schrader serves as referee in chief for Prince Albert Minor Hockey and as a video goal judge for WHL games in Prince Albert. He says he was happy to hear the WHL is taking action to protect players.

“I think it’s great news. Player safety is so important today. What happened in Europe really shows that anybody can get hurt or killed. I think it’s a very good idea. It protects all the players. If you could stop one major injury, I think that’s a good cause.”

Prior to the announcement, the WHL was the only league in the CHL to not mandate neck guard equipment. The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) have mandated the equipment for several years.

In addition, WHL players were required to wear neck guards at the Memorial Cup, even if the tournament was hosted in a WHL market such as last year in Kamloops.

Truitt says he expects the Raiders to transition well to the new guidelines, with players being used to wearing neck guards growing up.

“A lot of these kids have grown up with net guards in their minor hockey days.  International play as well, you’ve got to wear neck guards. Nobody likes to ever see anybody in trouble or passing away because of something like that. You weren’t going to fight it too much because it can save a life. Whenever they get the net guards to us, obviously it’s a rule now and we will abide by it.”

The new rule of mandatory neck guard protection will be effective on Friday, Nov. 3 or whenever the equipment is available to teams.