The debate on whether neck guards should be mandated during games has arguably been the hottest topic in hockey recently.
The push for a mandate comes on the heels of the death of former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Adam Johnson. The former NHL player died after his throat was slashed by the skate of Matt Petgrave in a game between Johnson's Nottingham Panthers and Petgrave’s Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in England.
While the debate over the incident engulfed social media, other leagues around the country and the world have begun discussing mandating protective neck guards for all hockey players.
Many players in the NHL have already begun wearing neck guards since the incident, but the league has yet to make a final decision regarding a mandate. Sun Devil senior forward Matthew Kopperud offered his insight on the matter.
“We have a couple of guys that are starting to wear neck guards,” Kopperud said. “They’re actually fully sold out for a lot of places, so I know guys on our team are starting to order them. I personally have not decided if I’m going to wear one or not, but we’ll see when they come in.”
Neck guards for hockey come in many different forms, whether it’s just the sleeve around the neck, a bib or even one connected to the players' undershirt, resembling a turtle neck. Not every player has decided to wear one, but those who have chosen not to have expressed their support for those who choose to wear it.
“It’s obviously a crazy situation,” freshman defenseman Anthony Dowd said. “I know a bunch of guys are starting to wear them. Everywhere is sold out of neck guards; I don’t have one right now. I’ve looked into getting an undershirt one that is connected, but they’re all sold out everywhere.”
Head coach Greg Powers has kids who play hockey. Attending his sons games this past weekend, he’s been pleased with the increased emphasis on safety in the youth leagues.
“I went to both of my sons' games this Saturday, and half his team were wearing them,” Powers said. “He didn’t wear it in the first game, and I snapped on him, and he wore it the second game. It’s just so easy, especially for kids, to wear it and prevent things from happening that you don’t want to see happen in this great game. It’s such an easy fix.”
On Monday night at Mullett Arena, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1. Two-time Stanley Cup Champion Anze Kopitar took the ice in Tempe, sporting a neck guard of his own.
Powers expressed his desire to see all hockey players follow Kopitar's lead, although he said he would not mandate it.
“Hopefully, more and more players at all levels start to play with them,” Powers said. “It’s good to see guys like that setting the example for younger players, and hopefully, you’ll see some of our guys. I know Lovell’s got neck protection now, and hopefully, more guys will follow suit, but it’s their call.”
Powers said he predicts USA hockey will eventually mandate them for all players, but the decision remains up to the players until a ruling is ultimately made.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.