Mats still no neck guard fan

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Mats Sundin understands just how lucky Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik is to be alive this morning.

The Maple Leafs captain is well aware of the dangers a razor-sharp skate blade can have on a hockey player, especially after the tragedy that occured in his native Sweden more than 12 years ago.

"I've heard of incidents (like that involving Zednik)," Sundin said yesterday.

"There was a guy in Sweden who actually passed out and died after being slit by a skate. Neck guards were made mandatory in the Swedish league for a while after that."

The player in question was named Bengt Akerblom. Both he and Sundin spent part of the 1989-90 season with Djurgarden, the Stockholm-based team in the Swedish elite league.

DIFFERENT PATHS

From that point on, their careers -- and lives -- would take very different paths.

Sundin, who had been selected first overall pick in the 1989 NHL entry draft by the Quebec Nordiques, would eventually make his way to North America, where he knitted together a Hall of Fame calibre career with the Nords and Maple Leafs.

Akerblom, meanwhile, would not make it to his 30th birthday.

On Oct. 15, 1995, Akerblom, still in his hockey prime at age 28, was taking part in a practice game between Mora, his team, and Brynas.

It would be the last one he ever played.

When a Brynas player checked Mora's Andreas Olsson, the legs of a tumbling Olsson looped through the air, connecting with teammate Akerblom in the process. Olsson's skate blade sliced through the carotid artery in Akerblom's neck, causing blood to profusely spew from the gash in his throat.

DIED FROM INJURIES

Akerblom was being rushed to hospital when he died from his injuries, causing Swedish elite league officials to implement mandatory throat guards.

The rule remains in existence to this day.

For the record, Sundin does not feel NHL players should be forced to wear such equipment. Sundin is a strong advocate of an individual's freedom of choice, choosing not to wear a visor despite having a number of close calls with pucks and sticks near his eyes over his career.

"I think (neck guards) are mandatory for kids, and that's good," he said. "But it's tough for elite players. It should be an optional thing. It might inhibit breathing for some players."


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