It is the most feared type of hockey collision and one that hangs over every match.
Adam Johnson, a Minnesota native and former Pittsburgh Penguins center, fell to the ice. He had taken another skater’s blade to his neck during a game in England’s Elite Ice Hockey League on Saturday, a horrific incident in a sport played essentially with knives on participants’ feet.
Johnson, a former University of Minnesota Duluth star, died of his injuries at 29.
Most responded similarly to watching an unthinkable tragedy take place on a hockey rink.
Trent McCleary felt horror, too, but the former Senator, Bruin and Canadien also felt flashbacks.
“Absolutely. I’m human,” McCleary, who years ago suffered a traumatic, on-ice throat injury, said over the phone Tuesday. “I’ve never seen the video, and I don’t want to see the video [of Johnson]. But I can only imagine because I’ve seen the Clint Malarchuk video. I’ve seen the Richard Zednik video. It’s something you don’t really need to see.
“But I absolutely feel for his family, for his friends. It’s a horrible accident.”
The Sabres’ Malarchuk survived a 1989 scare in which another player’s skates hit his neck and partially sliced his jugular vein. In 2008, the Panthers’ Zednik survived an incident in which a teammate’s skate cut his carotid artery. Pucks or skates to uncovered throats are not common in hockey, but they are not unprecedented, either.
Perhaps Johnson’s will be the last horrible accident. The NHL is “strongly recommending” players use neck guards to further protect themselves, according to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. The NHL is not yet mandating them.
McCleary does not think a neck guard — which is more effective against blades than the force of a puck — would have fully protected him, but he speaks from a unique vantage point. He nearly died on the ice himself.
These days, McCleary is a healthy, 51-year-old senior wealth adviser for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Saskatchewan. In those days — back in 2000 — McCleary was the victim of another horrible accident that thankfully merely ended his career.
Then a winger for the Canadiens, McCleary saw Philadelphia’s Chris Therien winding up for a slap shot and did what he was supposed to do: He dove in front to block the puck and help his team in a tie match. The puck found the same unpadded region for McCleary as it did for Johnson: his throat. He could not breathe. He soon lost consciousness. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found he had suffered a fractured larynx and collapsed lung.
Canadiens team doctor David Mulder talked to McCleary’s soon-to-be wife, Tammy.
“It’s close, but he’s alive,” McCleary recalled Mulder saying. “And my wife was just like: ‘Whoa. He was just playing a hockey game. What do you mean ‘alive’?
“[Death] wasn’t a possible outcome you’d think, that it’d be that close. But it was.”
McCleary drank a liquid food supplement for six weeks, unable to eat. He wrote a note to his teammates because he was unable to speak until he had undergone several surgeries. He recovered as a human but not fully as a hockey player, attempting a comeback before the following season that could not be completed. McCleary lost “about 30 percent of my airway” in his lungs, he said, a cardiovascular setback that proved too much to overcome. For about five years he worked as a scout for the Canadiens before choosing his family and settling into his current life.
Nowadays, McCleary is a father of three, watching two daughters who play in Canadian youth programs and a son, Ryan, who received a professional tryout with the Rangers this summer and is now in the WHL.
Ryan McCleary does not wear a neck guard, and Trent does not interfere with what makes his son comfortable. Trent’s daughter Emily, who plays on an under-15 team in the Saskatchewan Female Hockey League, must wear one, but even the league’s rule can be bent. Players complain about the tightness around their throat; about overheating; about being drenched in sweat.
“They do have [neck guards] on, but they’re flopping around, they come undone,” Trent said of the players in his daughter’s league. “They’re not comfortable to wear, they say. Just because you mandate something doesn’t always mean [it is followed]. Look at visors — how many NHL players wear them tilted up?”
The English Ice Hockey Association announced it will be making neck guards mandatory during on-ice activities beginning in the next calendar year, a step not taken by any professional hockey league in North America.
McCleary wishes more players would wear a neck protector, but he understands why they don’t. They can be uncomfortable. Judging by the number of incidents over the decades, they are needed only on occasion. Players look for every advantage they can get, and a neck guard might slow them down a tick.
Is it time the NHL tries to prevent these horrible accidents by making them mandatory?
“You could have Kevlar from basically wrist to high neck to ankles, and everybody should absolutely have [a neck guard],” McCleary said. “But getting everybody to wear it consistently, that would be an issue. People just don’t want to.
“They don’t feel like they have to until you see an outcome like Adam Johnson.”
Today’s back page
Panning for gold
At Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline, the NFC East helped the NFC West fatten up.
A day after the Giants sent defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the Seahawks, the Commanders shipped defensive end Chase Young — the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft — to the 49ers.
San Francisco sent just a third-rounder back to Washington, a light return for an oft-injured player who can be a free agent after the season but also is excellent when he is on the field.
Young’s nine hurries this season are tied for fifth-most in the NFL. He has five sacks in seven games and will join a 49ers defense that has the potential to be Super Bowl-caliber. The 24-year-old will be reunited with former Ohio State teammate Nick Bosa on a defensive line that also includes Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave.
For a usually boring NFL trade deadline, Young’s is the kind of deal that could matter.
Locally, the Jets stayed pat on the trade front, but signed veteran guard Rodger Saffold to their practice squad. After losing offensive linemen Connor McGovern (knee) and Wes Schweitzer (calf) on Sunday, Saffold might matter, too.
Lone stars? Not this Texas team
The Rangers winning this like is appropriate, right?
Of course on a day when perhaps their best hitter in Adolis Garcia (1.108 postseason OPS) and Max Scherzer, the three-time Cy Young Award winner who was set to start a potential Game 7, both were removed from their World Series roster, they just kept rolling.
The Rangers won’t have Garcia (oblique strain) or Scherzer (back spasms) for the rest of the series, but the rest of the series could only last one game.
Texas smacked around the Diamondbacks, 11-7, in Game 4 on Tuesday night in Arizona to take a 3-1 lead.
Andrew Heaney (five innings, one run) was excellent and handed the ball to the bullpen, which played with its spacious room for error in giving up six runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
Virtually everyone contributed offensively without Garcia, including his replacement, former Mets speedster Travis Jankowski, who went 2-for-4 with a two-run double. The biggest contributions came from Marcus Semien, who hit a two-run triple in the second inning and a three-run dinger in the next inning, ending any possible drama early in the night.
The Rangers have survived all season because the front office continued to replenish lost talent. Jacob deGrom was lost for the season; in came Scherzer. Martin Perez faded; in came Jordan Montgomery.
What we’re reading
🏀 And while the games are going on, writes The Post’s Mike Vaccaro, the fixation for the Knicks and their fans will be monitoring Joel Embiid’s status with the James Harden-less 76ers.
🏈 Overnight, the Raiders fired head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler. Their interim coach for Sunday’s game against the Giants? None other than ex-Giant Antonio Pierce.
🏒 The Rangers are 7-2, ranking near the bottom of the NHL in several offensive metrics and near the top in defense. The Post’s Larry Brooks explains the Bizarro Rangers.
🏀 Angel Reese is back for more.
This story originally appeared on NYPost