New neck gear, strengthened by the space-aged Kevlar-brand fibre, looks a lot like a unfurled black turtle neck. It’s so thin, at first glance, it doesn’t look stout enough to stop a high-speed skate slice.
TORONTO — - Neck guards have rarely registered high on the “cool” scale with hockey players.
Ex-goalie Clint Malarchuk’s gory injury 21 years ago didn’t frighten NHLers into wearing them.
Neither did Richard Zednik taking a skate in the throat a few seasons back.
But this kind of on-ice life-threatening hasn’t diminished — last season, linesman Kevin Brown suffered a serious throat injury from a skate while trying to break up a fight in a Junior C game between the New Hamburg Firebirds and the Woodstock Renegades.
Two weeks ago, Bauer Hockey launched its latest attempt at top-notch neck protection and introduced the line during the safety component of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit Wednesday at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre.
The new neck gear, strengthened by the space-aged Kevlar-brand fibre, looks a lot like a unfurled black turtle neck. It’s so thin, at first glance, it doesn’t look stout enough to stop a high-speed skate slice.
“That’s what everyone thinks at first,” said Kathy McGown, Bauer Hockey’s category general manager of apparel, “but this is unmatched in terms of neck protection for hockey. It’s undergone rigorous testing simulating neck lacerations and had to be BNQ- and CE-certified under the highest standards.”
Bauer trumpets this new integrated neck wear, which retails from $59.99-$79.99 at hockey specialty stores, as providing superior cut-resistant protection while maintaining a soft, flexible feel. Bulky, it isn’t.
“We did extensive research on how the players felt about neck protection,” McGown said. “Previous versions, the players said they felt inhibited, it moved around a lot and it was hard to find and easy to lose in a hockey bag.
“We wanted to address those issues with an adjustable collar while still providing maximum protection. It has a velcro strap so it can be easily removed and it can be cut through with medical scissors in an instant (providing easy access for trainers during emergency treatment).”
Shortly after the Zednik incident, Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch forced his players to wear neck protection in games. But that hasn’t stopped many of them from ignoring them during practices.
After Brown’s mishap, Ontario Hockey Association president Brent Ladds said his organization was looking at neck protection for all its officials.
Hockey Canada has endorsed Bauer as its exclusive provider of neck protection and Canadian Hockey League players will have the option to wear the latest product or stick with their old one.
And the NHL?
“It’s going to take more education,” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “We’re talking about two or three incidents here so I don’t think you can just jump into forcing everyone wearing neck guards right away but it’s something the players have to consider.
“I think it’s like helmets and other forms of protection. It’s a process that has to take its course.
“The young players now are mandated to wear them and we’ll see what happen when that generation gets to the NHL, what they decide to do.”
So far, they have decided to remove them.
But according to Bauer marketing man Darryl Hughes, change could be on the horizon.
He said Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who scored the Stanley Cup winner last season, had been in contact with the company and shown interest in the new neck gear.
“Guys want to see what’s out there, you never know what can happen,” Hughes said, “and it only takes one NHL player (to kick-start the awareness).”
If it’s Kane who begins the revolutionary safety wave among his peers, it’ll run polar opposite to the rather unsafe way he wears his mouth guard by continuously chewing on one end of it.
This new neck protection is considerably more comfy than past models — but definitely not too tasty.