Increased use of neck protection in hockey

Hockey safety concerns

There has been an uptick in hockey players buying neck protectors this week, following the tragic on-ice accident that killed Hibbing native Adam Johnson.

As many in the Northland mourn the tragic death of Hibbing native and former UMD Bulldog Adam Johnson, the incident has also re-ignited the debate over whether neck protection should be required in hockey. 

Various equipment stores in the area, including Play It Again Sports, have noticed an uptick in parents buying neck protection for their kids. 

“I probably had a full year supply on hand within two days after [Johnson’s death], I would say 90% of that inventory had dwindled because everybody was on board that they wanted to get collars or the neck protector shirts just to have their young players protected on the ice,” said General Manager Steven Holappa. “You see certain things happen, and it’s happened in the past. But now that it hits home with someone from northern Minnesota, I think more people are realizing what just wearing one could do.”

Following Saturday night’s fatal accident, the English Ice Hockey Association announced that all neck guards and protectors will be made mandatory in 2024.

“It’s different now that skates are really sharp. We have great equipment. We have better steel, we have people taking care of it,” said UMD Women’s Hockey Coach Maura Crowell. “The game is faster. People are more skilled, so as the game evolves, it seems like so should our equipment.”

USA Hockey recommends the use of neck protection but does not require it, even after the 2022 death of high schooler Teddy Balkind. Minnesota Hockey follows USA Hockey’s protocol and does not require it. Some individual leagues require neck protection, but others, such as the NCAA, do not. 

“I think it’s interesting that at a certain age you don’t have to wear it anymore, right? So when I was little, we always had neck guards and some of them were big and clunky, some of them were not,” said Crowell. “In college, I don’t think we were required at the time, but I don’t see why we wouldn’t.”

Both UMD Men’s and Women’s Hockey teams have had multiple players request neck protection this week. 

“It’s a freak accident. Doesn’t happen very much, but you never know. Can’t be too careful,” said UMD Men’s Captain Luke Loheit. “Also, I just think it’s something that you want to pass down the younger generations too, right? You want to be careful and make sure that kids are taking care of their bodies, making sure that they’re safe out there, too. So I think it’d be important for us to make a statement as far as that goes.”