January 28, 2024
The USA Hockey Congress approved legislation Sunday that will require all players under the age of 18 to wear neck laceration protection in games and practices.
The new policy, which also extends to 19-year-old players at the boys, girls and junior levels and for on-ice officials under the age of 18, goes into effect Aug. 1.
“Safety is always at the forefront of our conversations and the action of our Congress today reflected that,” USA Hockey president Mike Trimboli said in a release.
The USA Hockey board of directors began exploring a more vigorous rule change with its safety and protective equipment committee in November. That was one month after hockey player Adam Johnson, a 29-year-old with England’s Nottingham Panthers, died from a skate blade cut to the neck. In the wake of his accident, the English Ice Hockey Association announced neck guards and protectors will become mandatory starting in 2024 throughout all levels of ice hockey in England.
While players older than 18 at adult levels will not be required by USA Hockey to wear the neck protectors, they are strongly encouraged to do so. USA Hockey has recommended that gear, along with cut-resistant socks, sleeves and undergarments, for its players since well before Sunday’s mandate.
“I know throughout our organization, the overwhelming opinion was that the time is appropriate to modify our rules related to neck laceration protection,” USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said. “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.”
USA Hockey is the sport’s second national governing body to mandate neck protection following Johnson’s death. In December, the International Ice Hockey Federation made neck guards mandatory for all levels of its tournaments, including the Olympics and men’s and women’s world championships. No date has been set for when that mandate goes into effect.
The NHL does not currently require players to wear neck protection, although some players have chosen to start wearing the gear. Washington Capitals star T.J. Oshie, who owns hockey apparel company Warroad, said he saw a major uptick in November of NHL players looking to add his line of neck protection, while others have enlisted their team’s equipment staff to find neck protectors.
In addition, teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins have made it mandatory for their American Hockey League and ECHL players to wear neck guards. The gear is also mandated across junior hockey levels, including in the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.