CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Even a neck guard may not have prevented Richard Zednik's near-fatal injury on Sunday.
Cullimore has come close to having his neck cut open -- and the veteran defenseman has the scars to prove it. But don't expect him, his teammates or other NHL players to start wearing neck guards because of Zednik's accident. Like helmet cages, neck guards are something worn by junior and amateur players, not pros.
"I've gotten skates up there," Cullimore said. "It's just something that happens. You could wear a whole armor suit out, there but you're still going to have broken bones and stuff like that."
Zednik was cut during the third period Sunday in Buffalo when Panther captain Olli Jokinen was upended and his skate swung up, hitting Zednik in the right side of the neck, nearly severing his carotid artery. He underwent emergency surgery and required five units of blood, and is recovering in a hospital. The accident happened almost 20 years after Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk severed his jugular vein when an opposing player's skate clipped him. He also recovered.
"Right after [Zednik's accident] happened, somebody on our team said maybe we should wear neck guards," Los Angeles Kings forward
Michael Cammalleri said. "I don't know if it would fly, to be honest with you, but there's been a couple of scary incidents and you never want to see that."
The NHL always has had a macho culture. Goalies didn't regularly wear facemasks until the 1960s and helmets weren't mandated for incoming players until 11 years after Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton died from striking his head on the ice in 1968. Only a fraction of the players today wear helmet visors, even though their eyes are constantly threatened with sticks and pucks.
So it's not surprising that NHL players don't wear neck guards, which are made of reinforced material like Kevlar or nylon, foam and Velcro. There are also hockey undershirts that include a neck guard -- they look like a turtleneck. Some players, like Panthers forward David Booth, say wearing a guard is uncomfortable and "chokes you." Others say they just give a false sense of security.
"What happened a couple days ago, a neck guard wouldn't make any difference. The neck guard just comes this high, you know?" Jokinen said, gesturing about halfway up his neck. "If you watch what happened to Richard, the cut was a lot higher. It's one of those things."
Dave Fischer, a spokesman for USA Hockey, which governs amateur play in this country, said that's one reason the guards aren't even mandated at junior levels, although many players wear them. There is a concern, he said, that the guard can deflect the skate higher into the neck. A study on neck guards commissioned before Zednik's injury is expected to be finished this summer.
"There's no foolproof way to protect any part of the body from injury," Fischer said.
The NHL said there has not been any discussion of mandating neck guards.
"Players are free to use them if they so choose," spokesman Gary Meager said in an e-mail.
Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Player's Association, said it will take a closer look at neck guards.
"The NHLPA will review this matter in detail and will continue to ensure that our members are fully educated about all aspects of on-ice safety," he said.
But there are a few players who say the league should do with neck guards what it did with helmets -- require them for new players while letting current players choose.
"If you start right now, the rule for newcomers, rookies, coming into the league, they have to wear it, it's mandatory, no one's ever going to complain," said Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, who has ordered neck guards for his three children. "That's what Europe has done with their program. Nobody complains. You start wearing them in juniors, in mites. I tell you, it's going to save a lot of lives. Even if it saves one it's worth it."