In the aftermath of Adam Johnson’s tragic death caused by a cut from an errant skate blade, a former Ontario AAA hockey player is advocating for mandatory neck guards, recalling his own first-hand experience about how the protective equipment saved him from grave injury.
Yahoo Sports spoke to a young man named Nolan, who preferred to be identified by his first name only. Nolan goes by @NHL_Nolan on X, formerly Twitter, and outlined Tuesday how a Bauer-issued neck guard a protective undershirt saved him from a gruesome incident nearly six years ago.
Hockey is a fast paced dangerous game. Wear your neckguard and understand the dangers around you. To those claiming this attack was malicious are uneducated in the sport, this tragic accident should be a reminder to wear your safety equipment and advocate for the safety of others
— Nolan (@NHL_Nolan) October 31, 2023
I actually still have and use the neckguard that i was wearing that day pic.twitter.com/xOXiHCi98D
— Nolan (@NHL_Nolan) October 31, 2023
Nolan was playing for the Chatham-Kent Cyclones AAA team of Alliance Hockey towards the end of his minor hockey career when an errant skate blade hit him in the neck. He was fortunate to be able to return for the third period of the game.
“To the best of my memory, a teammate of mine saw an opponent coming through mid-ice in transition and in the big open-ice hit, I came through to grab the puck and the hit had the player's legs up towards the air,” Nolan told Yahoo Sports. “I got hit pretty hard in the throat by the skate. I don't know exactly at which angle, but it was enough that even though it didn't cut through the neck guard, it kind of took all my breath away.
"Trainers from both benches came out and kinda wrestled me onto the bench while trying to cover up where they thought the wound was. I was taken to the dressing room, they cleaned it up with a towel, there was just a little bit of blood that ended up on the surface there, like a scratch at the end of it."
Nolan told Yahoo Sports that you can see in his social media thread how the neck guard absorbed the blow of the skate cutting through.
Johnson’s death has pushed the issue of player safety and mandatory protective equipment to the forefront of the international hockey community’s list of priorities.
"It was scary and pretty disgusting to see all over the timeline and it was really just a reminder to always wear your equipment, especially those who say it's uncomfortable, it's always worth taking that extra step because you can lose any chance to play again if you cut corners on that,” Nolan said of the discussion following Johnson’s death.
“And going further to having protective equipment towards your Achilles, towards your wrist — like we've seen Evander Kane last year took a similar injury to the wrist. Making more strides towards the basics becoming mandatory."
Although Nolan was relatively unscathed by his own mid-game incident, it wasn’t the first time he had been cut by a skate blade during his minor hockey career.
"In a practice, I took another cut to the midsection. Just got stepped on in the corner, completely accidental. And there's a little cut on my stomach from that with a little scar," he said. "Another time in practice — not including me — but a teammate and another went sliding into the boards in a 1-on-1 during a rush defense drill. And in the way they fell into the boards, the skate went right through the thigh, in the groin area of the other player's leg and it left a gross cut there, too.
"I've seen it more than I should in my life. Just going above and beyond with the undershirts, I think it would be awesome if they could add some cut-resistant material into there, that would be great."
Nolan, who recently graduated from the University of Ottawa, provided a message for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, governing bodies that are capable of redefining the safety provisions in their respective countries.
"My big thing is the difference in security standards they have for youth in hockey compared to what they do when they're out of minor hockey leagues," Nolan said. "They've changed to having visors instead of full face shields. They've recognized the dangers for kids but they ignore those dangers when the kids become adults, available to make their own decisions but the risks are still there.
“It doesn't matter how uncomfortable it is, wear your protective equipment, protect yourself. It's a dangerous, fast sport. You can't protect yourself in the instances when a really gruesome injury happens. They're split-second decisions."