Referees are the peacekeepers of our national pastime. Sometimes they are forced to risk their necks—literally—on the job. Such was the case for Ontario minor hockey linesman Kevin Brown, who had his carotid artery slashed by a skate while breaking up a fight during a Junior C game on Dec. 29 in Woodstock. The Ontario Hockey Association has responded to the incident forcefully, making neck guards mandatory for all OHA on-ice officials as of Feb. 1.
The decision would seem to be a no-brainer. Most minor and house hockey leagues across Canada already require players to wear neck guards—the same logic should apply to the 33,000 referees and linesmen in Canada, who are just as susceptible to errant skates and pucks. And yet other provincial associations have not followed Ontario’s lead. Yves Archambault, technical director for Hockey Québec, says that there are currently no plans to make neck guards mandatory for refs in Quebec. “There are many injuries during the year for referees—cuts and pucks to the face—but the [new rules] are always reactionary,” says Yanik Gagné, referee coordinator for Hockey Québec. “Where is it going to stop?”
Saskatchewan also hasn’t yet considered mandating neck guards for referees—the topic didn’t even come up at a meeting of the province’s hockey association last week. But James Mays, referee-in-chief for the Saskatchewan Hockey Association, says that new rules and equipment are part of the continued evolution of the sport, and that “there’s no such thing as a knee-jerk reaction when you’re dealing with safety.” Mays can remember when helmets weren’t mandatory, and how absurd it seems now: “What was I thinking going on the ice without a helmet on?” he says. One day, referees across the country may say the same thing about neck guards.