EXCLUSIVE All-new protective balaclava could significantly reduce on-ice concussions and limit neck lacerations after Adam Johnson’s tragic death, says USA Hockey team doctor
- The prototype was already being developed when Johnson was killed in the UK
- Unlike other neck guards, this protective balaclava convers the entire neck
- READ MORE: Adam Johnson’s fiancée shares emotional tribute to her lost love
Hockey was already facing a concussion crisis when American Adam Johnson suffered a fatal laceration from a skate blade during a game in England last month.
Now, thanks to a 19-year-old college football player and a USA Hockey team doctor, there’s a piece of protective equipment that may help reduce the chances of both concussions and lacerations.
Adapted from a model that was originally designed for football and lacrosse, G8RSkin Ice looks like a balaclava, covering a hockey player’s head, neck and shoulders. The device is worn under a player’s uniform, and since it’s made with lightweight, cut-resistant Kevlar, it can prevent a player from having their throat slashed by a skate blade, as was the case with Johnson.
What’s more, studies by Virginia Tech found that G8RSkin can reduce the relative concussion risk for athletes by up to 83.33 percent.
‘The balaclava offers protection covering head, neck, and top part of the shoulder,’ G8RSkin consultant, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia and USA Hockey team doctor Charles Popkin told DailyMail.com. ‘I would suspect a lot of youth hockey and football parents are gonna be really excited about this product.’
In this rendering the protective balaclava is seen peeking up from under the jersey
Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia and USA Hockey’s Dr. Charles Popkin (right) consulted on the design, which he said can prevent lacerations, like Adam Johnson’s (left)
G8RSkin Ice looks like a balaclava, covering a hockey player’s head, neck and shoulders
Originally designed by Johns Hopkins defensive back Carter Hogg, who has battled concussions himself, the first G8RSkin was aimed exclusively at reducing head trauma in football and lacrosse.
Popkin began consulting Hogg soon after, and the pair quickly realized that the device could be adapted for hockey with minimal alterations.
To be clear, G8RSkin Ice was already in the works before Johnson suffered his tragic accident during a game last month, but the fatality did motivate Hogg and Popkin to add an additional later of Kevlar for better protection around the neck.
And unlike other neck protectors, which look a bit like turtle necks, the balaclava-styled G8RSkin Ice covers the entire neck. That’s significant, because according to USA Hockey research, 27 percent of players who’ve suffered neck lacerations from skate blades were actually wearing neck protectors.
‘Your really vulnerable area is what we call the Zone 2 between the bottom of your mandible and the clavicle,’ Popkin said. ‘And there’s plenty of those neck guards that leave a lot of that open.’
Carter Hogg (centre) pictured alongside his brother FJ (left) and their father Jason (right)
What’s more, USA Hockey only recommends the use of neck guards rather than mandating them, which is why Johnson’s death and a similar 2022 tragedy involving Connecticut high school hockey player Teddy Balking resulted in growing scrutiny for the organization.
‘I think the Adam Johnson tragedy and Teddy Balkind before that brought to light to what is usually a pretty unusual or rare injury, but it happens,’ Popkin said.
‘I think ice hockey’s the greatest game on the planet. It’s exciting, it’s fast, but to die on the ice is not something that people are comfortable with for sports – even if it is very unusual.’
The good news for Popkin, Hogg, and their product is that USA Hockey will be voting next month to address or change any safety equipment requirements, so they could see growing demand if the neck guards become mandatory.
Although only a few NHL players have even discussed the possibility of wearing neck protectors, women playing in the PWHL may be required to wear them.
‘[Anywhere] where they play hockey, they’re looking at this now – every level,’ said Brian Burke, executive director of the PWHL players’ association.
The English Ice Hockey Association has already mandated neck guards, beginning in 2024.
Adam Johnson’s Nottingham Panthers team-mates paid tribute ahead of a memorial game
But G8RSkin Ice doesn’t just protect from lacerations. Hogg and Popkin also claim it can minimize concussions by absorbing energy and stiffening at the moment of impact to reduce head movement.
‘The laboratory data is very encouraging,’ Popkin said. ‘Concussions are multifactorial. But you look at the reduction in linear acceleration, what happens when essentially the G8RSkin is absorbing a lot of the force. It stiffens up and limits, linear acceleration.’
Early reviews for the football prototype have been positive, according to Hogg, in part, because the design team have incorporated notes from football and players – all of whom have concerns about limiting movement.
Flowers, cards and jerseys were left outside the venue as emotions ran high before the match
‘This fall season, we just tested it from middle school through collegiate football and have been getting very positive feedback and we are continuing to make improvements to the design to address different notes that people have,’ Hogg told DailyMail.com.
‘Hockey and football players, I think, have tended to be pretty equipment minimalists,’ Popkin said. ‘I think [the device] is going to need to be comfortable and not restrict motion.
And the more comfortable and less restrictive the product is, the better chance it has at helping athletes.
‘If [USA Hockey mandates] it for youth, parents are gonna have to choose something and this would seem to be an exciting product because of how much of the neck it covers,’ Popkin said.
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