TAMPA, Fla. — Cole Koepke was heading to a minor league game with Syracuse of the AHL when he heard from a friend that Adam Johnson had been cut by a skate blade during a game in Great Britain.
After last month’s game, the Tampa Bay Lightning left wing discovered his fellow University of Minnesota-Duluth product had died.
“I actually knew Adam,” Koepke said after Tampa Bay’s morning skate before Monday night’s game against the Boston Bruins. “A lot to take in… boom. Shock. Just terrible.”
The death of the 29-year-old former Pittsburgh Penguins player not only forced the sport to reexamine safety standards, but also prompted Koepke to wear a turtleneck-style neck protector.
“It was pretty easy,” Koepke said of the decision. “You don’t think it will happen to anyone, but only to someone you know. How the simple fact of being from the same area affected so many people. Seeing the impact of this and everything, it just makes sense.
“I don’t mind wearing the neck protector, so I don’t see any reason not to use it,” Koepke added. “It just seems like the right thing to do.”
Koepke is the first Lightning player to use the equipment. The NHL does not require its use.
Johnson’s Nottingham Panthers teammate also wore neck protection in his first game over the weekend after Johnson’s death in Sheffield on October 28. The Elite Ice Hockey League said it “strongly encourages” players to wear neck guards.
A post-mortem examination confirmed that Johnson died as a result of a neck injury.
“The person he was, just a great guy,” Koepke said. “Amazing person.”
The NHL has had skate scares throughout its history, most notably Buffalo goalie Clint Malarchuk, who took a knife to the neck during a game against St. Louis on March 22, 1989. Malarchuk received prompt medical attention and He returned to play 10 days later.
Koepke believes that over time more players will choose to have additional neck protection.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL