USA Hockey requires all junior players to wear neck protection in wake of Adam Johnson’s death

CNNUSA Hockey announced Sunday it will require the use of neck laceration protection for all junior hockey players beginning August 1 – a decision coming three months after a player died from a skate to the neck.

“Safety is always at the forefront of our conversations and the action of our Congress today reflected that,” said USA Hockey president Mike Trimboli. “We appreciate the significant work done by our Safety and Protective Equipment Committee, led by Dr. Mike Stuart, and the many others who were instrumental in the overall evaluation process.”

The new rule will apply to all players and on-ice officials under the age of 18 in both games and practices.

The decision comes months after the death of American hockey player Adam Johnson, who suffered a serious neck injury playing for the English professional team Nottingham Panthers. A Sheffield, England, coroner’s report found the 29-year-old “sustained an incised wound to the neck caused by the skate of another player” and later died in hospital as a result of the injury.

In 2022, Connecticut high school player Teddy Balkind died after a similar incident.

Johnson’s shocking death in October sparked a greater awareness of the dangers of not wearing a neck guard and spurred changes throughout the sport. Days after his death, England Ice Hockey announced all players at all levels would be required to wear approved neck protection starting in January 2024.

For USA Hockey, neck laceration protection had previously been recommended but not required for youth hockey players. USA Hockey also “strongly recommends” neck laceration protection for adult players.

“I know throughout our organization, the overwhelming opinion was that the time is appropriate to modify our rules related to neck laceration protection,” said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey. “We’re also encouraged that the hockey industry is committed to continuing to work to improve the cut resistant products that protect players to help influence the safest possible landscape for the game.”

In the NHL, neck guards – let alone neck coverings of any kind – had not been a common sight, although several players have worn them since Johnson’s death.

“I think there is a machismo within ice hockey where you’re seen as being something less if you choose to wear more protective equipment,” ice hockey broadcaster Seth Bennett told CNN Sport in November.

Born in Hibbing, Minnesota, Johnson started his professional career in the American Hockey League before progressing to the NHL where he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, featuring in 13 matches over two years and scoring four points.

CNN’s Eric Levenson and George Ramsay contributed to this report.