New Brunswick

Neck guards in high demand as more hockey leagues make them mandatory

In a normal year, Maggie MacTavish says she would sell about 200 neck guards out of her sports equipment store in Fredericton. This time of the year, she’d only sell a handful to a few new skaters. But over the last week, MacTavish estimates she has sold about 50.

Maritime Hockey League will now require players to wear neck gear following death of former NHL player

A hockey player wearing a neck guard.
Neal Pionk of the Winnipeg Jets wears a neck guard in the second period of a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 2 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In a normal year, Maggie MacTavish says she would sell about 200 neck guards out of her sports equipment store in Fredericton. She'd only sell a handful to a few new skaters this time of year.

But MacTavish estimates she has sold about 50 over the last week. 

"With the uptick, certainly I think most stores are going to find they didn't have enough," said MacTavish, co-owner of MacTavish's Source For Sports. 

The demand for neck guards follows the death of 29-year-old Adam Johnson, who died after he was slashed in the neck by the skate of former University of New Brunswick Reds player Matt Petgrave during a game in the United Kingdom. Now leagues across Canada are looking at making neck guards mandatory.

The Canadian Junior Hockey League, which includes the Maritime Hockey League, announced on Friday that it would require the players on all its 122 teams to wear the protective gear whenever they are on the ice. 

"It was a unanimous decision that we thought was in the best interest of our athletes," said CJHL president Andy Harkness. 

He said teams will be given time to get the equipment, but the new rule is already in effect.

"Based on the unfortunate circumstances, it looks like there is a demand in the marketplace for neck guards and there just may not be availability," said Harkness. 

A hockey player looks ahead.
The English Ice Hockey Association announced Monday that it would be mandating neck protection after former NHL player Adam Johnson, seen above in 2017 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, died in a game after being cut by a skate. (Paul Vernon/The Associated Press)

"Our member leagues and teams are working through suppliers to see when they can get it as quickly as possible."

A regular neck guard costs about $15 while the pro neck guard costs $30. MacTavish said that while they still have regular neck guards available, the pro model is almost sold out. 

"Right now Bauer is sold out of them so as soon as our stock is gone, probably will be mid-December before we are able to get any more," said MacTavish.

Hockey in New Brunswick

Minor hockey in New Brunswick has long required players to wear neck guards. Nic Jansen, executive director of Hockey N.B., said the organization will also look at the requirements for other levels of hockey. 

Currently, senior league and the junior B and C league players are not required to wear neck guards. Jansen said there are national meetings in November, where countrywide mandates will be discussed. 

I think that this is the first step … in all the leagues making it mandatory.- Coach Kyle McAllister

"Depending on the direction that happens at the national meetings, if it's not mandated nationally, there's the potential that there could be further mandates from a provincial standpoint," said Jansen. 

Atlantic University Sport president Phillip Currie said there is no policy for neck guards currently in the league, but it is something the AUS is looking at given recent events.

Maritime Hockey League

Five out of the nine leagues under the CJHL already had a rule in place that required neck guards. For the Maritime Hockey League, it's new. 

According to MacTavish, Fredericton's junior hockey team, the Red Wings, put in an order for 25 neck guards from her store. 

"It's our job to do our best to make sure the players are protected," said Red Wings coach Kyle McAllister.

He said the players that come up to the junior level have been wearing neck guards for their entire career, but when it's no longer mandatory, most players stop wearing them. 

Four hockey players on the ice.
Fredericton Red Wings players will be required to wear neck guards whenever they're on the ice. (Brian Smith)

But he said he hasn't received any pushback from the players on his team about the new rule. 

"The players themselves I think recognize the importance of this," said McAllister.  "They want to make sure that the players themselves and the players they're playing against are safe and nobody puts somebody in an unnecessary risk."

McAllister expects more leagues will adjust their rules as well to make neck guards mandatory. The Professional Women's Hockey League is discussing whether to adopt a similar policy, and the NHL is examining its regulations as well.

The Western Hockey League also announced last week that it would make neck guards mandatory. The Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League already required their players to wear neck guards. 

"I think that this is the first step … in all the leagues making it mandatory. So I do think that's a step in the right direction," said McAllister.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a journalist with the CBC. You can reach him by email at philip.drost@cbc.ca.

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