The English Ice Hockey Association will make it mandatory to wear a neck guard during “all on-ice activities” from the start of 2024 in a change to regulations following the death of Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson.
The 29-year-old American was playing in a Challenge Cup match at the Sheffield Steelers when he reportedly suffered a slashed neck following a collision.
The Panthers described the incident as a “freak accident” when the club confirmed his death on Sunday, and police are investigating.
Under current rules, players in the UK do not have to play with neck guards once they turn 18.
The English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA) is the sport’s governing body in England and Wales, with almost 400 teams at junior and senior level below the Elite League, who are yet to comment on whether or not they will make neck guards mandatory.
The EIHA says it will also conduct a thorough review of safety equipment in the next 12 months including, but not limited to, the use of helmets, mouthguards/gumshields and facial protection, and the application of International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) rules.
A statement from the governing body on Monday read: “The EIHA makes a ‘strong recommendation’ that all players at all levels across English ice hockey use an approved ice hockey neck guard/protector whilst participating in all on-ice activities.
EIHA update: Player safety.
— English Ice Hockey Association (@EIHA_Official) October 30, 2023
“This ‘strong recommendation’ is in place until 31 December 2023, after which it will become a mandatory requirement.
“It is not mandatory with immediate effect due to anticipated supply issues. This will be under constant review between now and mandatory implementation.
“All protective equipment must be worn without alterations and as directed by the manufacturers’ specification.”
On Monday evening, the Elite League confirmed all games scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday would be postponed.
Everyone connected with the Elite Ice Hockey League is still coming to terms with the events of Saturday night, and the terrible news that was published on Sunday morning.
The Elite League can confirm that games scheduled for both Tuesday and Wednesday will be postponed. pic.twitter.com/HCxeWMbhT9
— Elite Ice Hockey League | #EIHL (@officialEIHL) October 30, 2023
Following consultation with the eight teams and their players, a consensus was for games to resume at the weekend when “appropriate and fitting tributes” to Johnson will take place.
Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers, though, will not be involved in any games over the next round of fixtures.
“We would continue to ask everyone to support these clubs through what is an intensely difficult time,” the Elite League said in a statement on social media.
Elsewhere, NIHL team Oxford City Stars, who have former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech on their roster, announced their players must wear neck guards at all times on the ice.
Shane Moore, director of hockey operations, said safety must be a priority, adding: “A life has tragically been taken too soon in a freak accident, and if wearing neck guards can prevent another devastating loss, then we want to ensure we have done everything within our power to protect our players.”
Sheffield City Council’s health and safety team are also assisting the police as investigations continue.
Meanwhile, the player’s fiancée Ryan Wolfe paid tribute on Instagram, saying: “My sweet angel, I’ll miss you forever and love you always.”
Fans gathered at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena to pay tribute with flowers and cards.
The Nottingham Panthers are truly devastated to announce that Adam Johnson has tragically passed away following a freak accident at the game in Sheffield last night. pic.twitter.com/lhSOkDu03Q
— The Nottingham Panthers (@PanthersIHC) October 29, 2023
Steelers fan Gary Hibbert was at the game and said: “I have come to pay my respects. It is heart-breaking.
“My kids absolutely love ice hockey and they have both been absolutely heart-broken after Saturday’s game, as we all are.”
Speaking of the incident in which Minnesota-born former NHL player Johnson was injured, he said: “My initial thought was he had a stick to the face, as it happens.
“Within two, three, four seconds we have seen the pool of blood.”
Mr Hibbert said Johnson had skated off for a moment after the collision before he collapsed and said he then shielded his son as best he could from the tragedy unfolding on the ice.
More tributes were left at Sheffield’s arena, with one card saying: “To a young man who came to Sheffield on a Saturday night to do his job and play for his team, left the arena fighting for his life, and didn’t return home with his team mates RIP Adam Johnson #47.”
Ontario Reign paid tribute to their former player before the club’s American Hockey League game against the Abbotsford Canucks on Sunday.
Johnson’s name was announced to the crowd as his number 49 jersey was placed on a chair in the middle of the ice by former Nottingham player Jacob Doty.
Every Ontario player touched the jersey in a moving gesture.