A little over a year ago, T.J. Oshie came across a story about a young boy who was injured by a skate blade during a youth hockey game. Without hesitation, Oshie reached out to his partners at Warroad, the hockey apparel company he co-founded, to address the safety concerns in the sport. Initially focused on developing comfortable undershirts, Warroad had progressed into creating cut-resistant fabrics to protect players’ wrists and Achilles tendons. Oshie now wanted to tackle the issue of neck injuries, particularly the carotid artery. Warroad successfully designed a sleek turtleneck with cut-resistant panels built into the fabric called the “tilo” design.
However, despite its effectiveness, Oshie noticed that NHL players did not wear such protective gear. This could be attributed to several reasons. NHL rinks are hotter than ever, and players already sweat through multiple undershirts per game, making a turtleneck undesirable. Players also hold onto superstitions and tend to stick with familiar equipment they have used since their junior years. Additionally, neck guards and turtlenecks are not seen as fashionable or cool, with only a few players like Wayne Gretzky and Tomas Plekanec successfully pulling off the look.
Sadly, the recent tragic death of former NHL player Adam Johnson changed Oshie’s perspective. Johnson was fatally injured by a skate blade during a game in England, causing Oshie to realize the inherent and preventable risks involved in playing hockey at any level. Concerned for his own safety and the well-being of his children, Oshie ordered five Tilo turtlenecks from Warroad for himself and his teammates to try. He intends to wear them despite their uncool appearance.
Another player, Jason Dickinson, experienced a close call when his skate accidentally cut Boston player Jakub Lauko’s face. The incident made Dickinson realize the potential dangers of skate injuries and prompted him to express relief that Lauko’s eye was spared. He empathized not only with the victim but also with the player involved, acknowledging the burden of guilt they might feel despite it being a freak accident.
Many people argue that skate-cut incidents should not be considered freak accidents due to the nature of the game. Hockey involves high speeds, forceful movement, and players wearing dangerous skates. Former Team Canada player and physician Hayley Wickenheiser believes such injuries are more common than perceived, with players often fortunate to escape with superficial wounds. She advocates for normalizing neck protection in hockey equipment to prevent future tragedies.
While NHL players willingly take the risk of playing sans significant protection, it is hoped that attitudes will change over time, similar to the adoption of helmets and visors. Richardson, a coach and former NHL player, sees Oshie’s company as a valuable resource and believes that as neck protection becomes mandatory in lower leagues, it will eventually become the norm in the NHL. Until then, players like Oshie and Dickinson will explore options to prioritize safety and prevent life-threatening accidents on the ice.