The pictures show the carelessness with neck protection in the SHL – no one is punished

The pictures show the carelessness with neck protection in the SHL – no one is punished

The pictures show the carelessness with neck protection in the SHL – no one is punished
Published 31 Oct 2023 at 10:52

Adam Johnson’s death is being investigated by police


Nick Olesen in IK Oskarshamn.

Adam Johnson died after being hit in the neck by a skate.

Grieving supporters outside the Motor Point arena in Nottingham.

After the death of Adam Johnson, the debate about neck protection has gained momentum again in hockey.

In the last two years, not a single player in the SHL has been fined for using their neck protection incorrectly.

Still, pictures and videos show that even today players are careless with the equipment.

– If you are to be self-critical, maybe we should have reported it in more cases, says SHL referee manager Tomas Thorsbrink.

American ice hockey player Adam Johnson, 29, lost his life after being hit in the neck by a skate.

The circumstances surrounding the accident are under investigation, and while it is not clear whether or not Johnson was wearing a neck brace, the debate over the potentially life-saving equipment has reignited.

In Swedish hockey there has been a requirement for neck protection since 1996 and in Hockeyallsvenskan players are fined every two weeks for either not using the protection at all or for using it incorrectly.

This season alone, six players in the Hockeyallsvenskan have been suspended by the disciplinary board.

No player has been suspended in the SHL since 2021
But in the SHL it looks completely different.

Despite the fact that there is both photo and video evidence of players not using their neck protection correctly, including by folding it down, not a single player has been fined for it in the last two years.

A big difference compared to autumn 2020. Then 28 cases were reported between 19 September and 24 October alone – i.e. during a period of less than a month and a half.

– We have had a long discussion with the parties involved about how we should proceed with this. We had a situation a couple of years ago where we took expulsions and made lots of reports. Then we got a lot of criticism and it didn’t work, says SHL referee base Tomas Thorsbrink.

He says that the referees’ work has since changed, following dialogue with the clubs.

– This is talked about all the time and we see a clear improvement in usage now compared to previous years. But we are certainly not satisfied. We are not until this is followed one hundred percent.

Before the matches in the SHL, the referees now, unlike before, do a visual inspection of the players, according to Thorsbrink.

– If there is a player who does not have neck protection, the linesmen must tell him or one of the leaders that he is not allowed to play if he does not put it on correctly.

At the same time, the judges still have the option of reporting afterwards if it is not followed.

– If you are to be self-critical, maybe we should have reported it in more cases, but this is above all an employer’s and player’s responsibility, not a referee’s responsibility. They must wear the things correctly, says Thorsbrink.

2023-2024: 0

2022-2023: 0

2021-2022: 1

2020-2021: 31

Chosen to back down after criticism of the fine
But why do you choose not to make reports if you see that the rules are not being followed?

– It did nothing, quite simply. It became a one-day affair and we got so much criticism for it. Then we had to rethink, so that it will get better over time. We must work systematically.

So it’s not about you seeing through the fingers?

– No, we are working in a different way at the moment to simply be more long-term.

One of the many players who, in several photos, appears not to be using neck protection correctly is Oskarshamn’s Nick Olesen.

However, he says that in the SHL he plays with a protection that is approved by its manufacturer.

– I play with it as it should be worn. It’s not strange really, but then it’s very different from person to person how long a neck you have, for example. On some the neck is visible extra, on others nothing. I think it comes down to luck and bad luck in the end. The buckles on the neck guards can be quite bad at times and I have thought that it could fall off during matches in combat situations.

– You obviously try to use the neck protection so that it protects but also fits comfortably. It is a requirement to wear it in the SHL and all players, as far as I know, follow it, he says.

However, at international level, for example in championships such as the hockey World Cup, there is no requirement to use neck protection.

– I have been stupid sometimes and not used the neck protection even though I knew I should. Especially now, I will think about it an extra time.

You will not leave the neck protection in the dressing room when you play with Denmark in the future?

– No, I don’t intend to do that. It feels clichéd to say now after the accident, “I’m going to drive everything with a neck protector now, damn it”, you should have thought of that from the very beginning. The last three WC tournaments I’ve played I haven’t had neck protection, I feel stupid about that today. This is an eye opener and I will clearly always wear neck protection in the future, says Olesen.

Frölunda’s team captain Max Friberg, on the other hand, is a player who can clearly be seen wearing neck protection in the right way.

– I think it’s a matter of course to have neck protection, but then I haven’t been the best in the world at wearing it during every training session, but overall I’ve always been careful about it. It’s been in there since I was a kid. I think that our generation, the late 80s and early 90s, was the first to do this in view of Bengt Åkerblom’s death. It’s terrible that it takes something like that for people to realize it’s important. After that, we became more thorough in Sweden anyway.

How do you see the fact that there is no requirement for neck protection in international ice hockey?

– It should be obvious, if you want to avoid something like this happening. It is not possible to control everything that happens on the ice and there will be situations where there will be a victim, which of course is the most unfortunate, but it is also not fun to be the one who might have set up a skate in those areas. That weight is present throughout life, it’s not fun either. Neck protection should be a matter of course, regardless of where you play.

He believes that it is a matter of habit to wear neck protection and to do it correctly.

– Many claim that it is unsightly and that it is not possible to breathe, but that is just bullshit. Breathing is perfectly fine. When I played over there (North America) the norm was not to wear neck protection, but I think I had it even then.

Do you think that Adam Johnson’s death can raise the debate about neck protection also on the international level?

– Yes, I think so. It should, anyway. It is tragic and a shame that it takes an event like this for it to be lifted.



All players must wear neck protection designed for ice hockey.

The neck protection must be worn around the neck in the intended manner. It is not permitted to fold down or intentionally place the neck guard low. It is also not permitted to modify or cut or otherwise change the neck guard. It must have the same function and shape as it has from the manufacturer. A player who violates this rule in any way shall be ejected from the rink and warned. For a second offence, the lesser penalty for Illegal Equipment shall be imposed (see Rule 12). In SHL and in HA, misdemeanors against

this rule is also reported to the disciplinary board.


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