Severe hockey injury leads to discussions around mandating neck guards in Nova Scotia

Many people who experience or witness traumatic injuries never forgot the impact it had on them.

Nearly 30 years ago, one of those traumatic injuries tore through a Dartmouth hockey rink and the gruesome memory has never left Steve Crowell.

“I believe it was 1985 at the Dartmouth Sportsplex. I had a player playing for me that actually had his jugular cut and it was a very traumatic scene. After he got cut, he tried to get up and skate to the bench and it was just like water balloons coming out of his throat,” he said.

Luckily, the player survived. And ever since, Crowell has been an advocate for players wearing neck guards.

“I’m constantly kicking kids off the ice in midget, in practice, because they sneak out without it on. There are 12 people out there on the ice skating with razor blades on,” Crowell said.

Over the weekend, a similar injury took place in a hockey arena in Lower Sackville when a 19-year-old Junior B player had the upper part of his neck sliced open by a skate blade.

Luckily, all of Bailey Fraser’s major blood vessels were missed and he walked away with 27 stitches.

Dave Hessian, the trainer for the opposing team, responded to the injury as soon as it happened.

“When you look at the depth of that cut and it was right through all of the tissues, it was a pretty traumatic injury. That could have been so much worse, just a tiny bit lower and that could have nicked his carotid,” Hessian said.

Since then, Hessian has written to both Hockey Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League inquiring about making neck guards mandatory at all levels of the Junior hockey game.

“When you see that it’s worn at one level and not another, what makes them think that the skill level, or the level of the play in the league, or the speed of it, is any different?” Hessian said.

Both governing hockey organizations have responded to Hessian and say they’re looking into the incident.

“We want to ensure our players are safe. In the past we’ve removed checking at various levels, we’ve had a return-to-play-hockey policy for concussions, all to make the game safer. It’s a real priority for us. So, unfortunately, this incident occurred. It was an accident. We’re thankful the player is okay but we will take this opportunity to really look at our protocol around neck guards around Junior players,” said Amy Walsh, the executive director of Hockey Nova Scotia.

As of now, Fraser is recovering at home and neck guards are still up to individual players to wear at the Junior B level of the game.

However, Hessian hopes this incident will encourage players to take safety into their own hands.

“I think it would be great if the players themselves in this league, especially the older guys, took it upon themselves to wear those neck guards and they’re going to get chirped but you know what, that’s where courage comes from,” Hessian said.

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