USA Hockey will now require neck protectors for its youth leagues in wake of Adam Johnson’s death

Flowers in front of black and white portrait
Flower tributes for Nottingham Panthers Adam Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena before the Ice Hockey Adam Johnson memorial game between Nottingham Panthers and Manchester Storm in Nottingham, England.
Rui Vieira | AP 2023

USA Hockey, which oversees hundreds of youth hockey leagues across the country, will require neck protectors for all of its players starting in August.

The decision, which was announced Monday, comes after the death of Adam Johnson.

Johnson, a Minnesota native, died after an on-ice collision during a hockey game in Sheffield, England in late October. Johnson was cut by a skate blade on his neck and later died from his injuries. 

The incident prompted discussions at several levels of hockey about player protection. 

“We’ve researched prevention of skate blade lacerations,” said Dr. Michael Stuart, with USA Hockey, in a video put out by the organization. Stuart led the committee that made the recommendation to the USA hockey board. “We’re very excited now because there are better products, with cut resistant materials and more coverage of the vulnerable anatomic areas.”

The International Ice Hockey Federation announced a mandate in December, for all levels of competition, including the Olympics and men’s and women’s world championships. But the date that will go into place is not clear yet.

Minnesota Hockey is the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in Minnesota. It is an affiliate of USA Hockey and adheres to its rules. In a statement, Minnesota Hockey said the new rule will apply to all 13 hockey districts and more than 130 member associations.

“Obviously, the situation that happened over in England with Adam is horrific and tragic,” said Andrew Pillsbury, the chair of the Orono youth hockey coaches board. He has two young sons playing mites hockey.

“This is just a really simple way to just try to keep our kids safe,” he said. “All they want to do is go out there and play with their friends and have a good time. And the last thing we want is for something significant to happen. And if we can do that by wearing either the neck guards or the undershirts that have the neck and the wrist protections, it’s just a simple thing. And it’s not something that should be controversial at all.”

Photos are displayed at a public memorial service
Photos are displayed at a public memorial service for hockey player Adam Johnson at the Hibbing Memorial Building Arena.
Erica Dischino for MPR News | 2023

At Strauss Skates and Bicycles in Maplewood, sales of neck protectors have been up since the news of Johnson’s death. Sales have spiked again this week after USA Hockey’s announcement.

“We’re pretty much out of stock of just about everything except for some of the fringe sizes,” said Shaun Hastings, chief operating officer of Strauss, on Wednesday.

Hastings said he views neck protection as an important safety precaution. 

“It’s kind of like wearing a seatbelt in the car. It won’t protect you from all accidents, but it certainly can’t hurt,” he said. 

Hastings, who coaches a pee wee hockey team, said about 30 percent of players he sees now wear neck guards. He says some of the neck guards out there are $80-100. Strauss introduced its own line of neck protection three years ago. 

“The goal of when I did that was to get the price down so we don't have much markup. Obviously it’s how we can get the price to half of what you see competitors doing,” he said. “And that’s just something that has been personally very important to me as a shop owner and a hockey coach.”

A side view of a hockey player in her gear watching the game.
Sydney Erickson seen wearing a Bauer Longsleeve Neckprotect in Duluth. Erickson says she has been wearing her neck guard for a while.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News | 2023

At the St. Paul Capitals Hockey Association, the news is a welcome change. 

“We’re thrilled as a board and association that USA Hockey took the stand and did make the requirement,” said Katie Murphy, the executive director of the association. “It’s a quite inexpensive piece of vital equipment, compared to the amount of money that’s spent on other equipment that hockey players are required to have.”

In a statement, the Minnesota State High School League said it abides by the rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations. The MSHSL said they strongly recommend the use of neck protection in high school hockey.

The ice hockey rules committee for the National Federation of State High School Associations will meet in April.

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