ARLINGTON, VA — When Tom Wilson took the ice for morning skate Thursday, he became the first Capital to use protective neck gear after the death of former NHL player Adam Johnson. Wilson tested out a cut-resistant turtleneck made by TJ Oshie’s brand Warroad, though he has not decided whether he will wear it in-game.
While Wilson was the first on the team to use the equipment, he may not be the last. Wilson signaled that Oshie could start using the same turtleneck as soon as Thursday night’s game against the New York Islanders.
“There’s rumors he may try it — he may try it tonight,” Wilson said after practice.
Following Johnson’s freak accident Saturday night, more and more players at all levels of hockey have weighed adding neck protection on the ice. Those discussions helped convince Wilson to try it out Thursday.
“I think obviously people have been talking a lot about it,” he explained. “Unfortunately it’s one of those things where it’s an unfortunate circumstance that you have the opportunity to learn from. Obviously it’s kind of a freak accident. But each individual for now can kind of make their own decision.”
Tom Wilson testing out neck protection at this morning’s skate. TJ Oshie had said earlier this week that a few Caps were planning to try it out. pic.twitter.com/0o0heDHqw4
— Katie Adler (@katieEadler) November 2, 2023
Wilson wore neck guards when required as a junior player, but had not used them at the NHL level. He noted that Oshie — who received around 100 messages from players about cut-resistant equipment in the days following Johnson’s accident — has encouraged his teammates to adopt more protective gear.
“I’ve just been chatting with Osh,” he said. “I think Osh is pretty adamant obviously about wearing it.”
Wilson wore one of Warroad’s TILO base layers, which includes cut-resistant material on both the neck and forearms. The shirt quickly sold out earlier this week, prompting Warroad to create a waitlist for future restocks.
The neck on the Warroad top allows players to loosen it when off the ice, as Wilson did when speaking with reporters. Oshie later described the feature in the comments of a RMNB Instagram post.
“He just got off the ice and loosened it in the back. It’s adjustable,” Oshie explained to those interested in the gear.
For Wilson, adding cut-resistance to players’ necks felt like a logical progression.
“I mean I was thinking about it,” he said. “There’s cut-proof (material) pretty much everywhere else now. Wrists, ankles, Achilles, back of the socks. But not on the neck. So I thought that doesn’t make a lot of sense. When that’s probably the most important part.”
After just one practice, Wilson wasn’t ready to commit to fully adopting the new turtleneck into his routine. His first impressions of the shirt, however, were positive.
“I honestly didn’t really notice it at all,” he said. So we’ll see. I’m not sure if I’ll wear it tonight yet. I’ve got to get used to it a little bit. A little warmer than normal shirts. But I think it’s no big deal if it’s going to protect you.”
Defenseman Hardy Häman Aktell also plans to add neck protection in the future, having worn it throughout his career in Europe. He noted that he was cut in the neck last season, though in a spot his neck guard didn’t cover.
“It’s a little more comfortable without it, but (if it’s) life and death, you choose life,” he said.
Head coach Spencer Carbery was glad to see the trend of more players adding cut-resistant gear at all levels of hockey, with leagues like the WHL making it required.
“I think it’s good that they’re looking at ways to not only incorporate it but try to make it mandatory in some instances,” he said. “It gets a little bit tricky at the NHL level, because of the players union and giving them a choice in the matter. But I think when horrific things like this happen, to look into it, how can we be safer?”
A former enforcer himself, Carbery said he’d never had a close call near his neck but that he often worried about cuts to the wrist as both a player and a coach.
“I would be in fisticuff situations quite a bit, and then you have no gloves on and then when you go to the ice, like there’s skates, there’s refs, there’s all sorts of stuff,” he said. “It’s dangerous. We saw firsthand how dangerous it can be.”
In a hockey culture often governed by uniformity and resistance to change, last weekend’s sudden tragedy may serve as a wake-up call.
“I’m glad that as a game and as a sport we’re trying to figure out ways to make it safer so that we can prevent any of these situations from ever happening again or do our best to do that,” Carbery said.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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