ST. LOUIS – Hockey can be a dangerous sport.
“We’re basically walking on razor blades,” said Mike Richards, the hockey director for the St. Louis Rockets Youth Hockey Club.
When players move at high speeds and bump into each other, “it can just happen.”
William Meyland-Smith plays for the club’s 8-year-old team.
“You could fall on the ice and break a bone,” Meyland-Smith said.
To protect himself, he wears the usual equipment such as elbow pads, a helmet, shin guards and shoulder pads.
William and all of the club’s other 600 players now also wear neck protectors.
“Player safety is always our top priority,” said Rockets general manager Ron Skinner.
According to Skinner, the Rockets are the first club team in the Missouri Hockey League to require neck guards. Neck guards are a relatively thick layer of material worn around the neck to prevent cuts and lacerations.
“I think we’ll look back later and say, ‘I can’t believe everyone wasn’t wearing neck guards,'” Skinner said.
The decision comes after the death of former NHL professional Adam Johnson, who died on the ice on October 28th when a skate injured his neck.
“If there is a turning point in player safety, I think the Adam Johnson incident will definitely be one,” Skinner said.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but that’s how we learn,” said Betsy Meyland-Smith.
Meyland-Smith’s two sons play for the club’s 12-year-olds and 8-year-olds.
“I’m really proud of the Rockets for taking this initiative,” she said.
Skinner said he is in discussions with other hockey clubs in the area to mandate the introduction of neck guards across the state.
“If we’re all on the same page and we’re all consistent, I think that will send a strong message to our kids,” Skinner said.
USA Hockey recommends, but does not currently require, the use of neck guards.
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