USA Hockey Votes to Require Neck Protectors

Neck protection is a critical aspect of hockey safety, as players are exposed to potential injuries, including collisions, high-speed impacts, and the risk of being struck by a puck, stick, or skate. Leading up to this decision, there has been a growing emphasis on player safety, leading to the adoption of various safety measures and equipment requirements. Mandatory neck protection will be implemented on August, 1st 2024 to reduce the risk of neck injuries and enhance overall player safety.

This decision was a long time coming, and influenced by incidents, research findings, and recommendations from medical professionals and safety experts. Sports organizations often revise their safety guidelines and equipment requirements based on evolving knowledge and understanding of injury prevention.

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USA Hockey Votes to Require Neck Protectors

The New Mandate: Details and Dates

USA Hockey Congress has recently approved legislation requiring the use of neck laceration protection for players in all age classifications, other than adults, in games and practices, as well as for on-ice officials under the age of 18, effective August 1, 2024. For clarity, the requirement includes players in the youth, girls, and junior age classifications.
USA Hockey has long recommended the use of neck protection, as well as cut-resistant socks, and sleeves. The USA Hockey Board of Directors asked the organization’s Safety and Protective Equipment Committee in November 2023 to begin the process of recommending potential rule changes related to neck laceration protection. “Safety is always at the forefront of our conversations and the action of our Congress today reflected that,” said Mike Trimboli, president of USA Hockey. “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 Reasons Behind the Mandate

The new ruling recommends but does not mandate, the use of neck protection by adult players. And to say it will be interesting to see where the NHL goes with this... well, that's an understatement. In 1989, the Buffalo Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk had his throat slashed by a skate during a game against the St Louis Blues after two players crashed his net. He received 300 stitches but returned to the ice within two weeks. In 2008, Richard Zednik’s throat was accidentally cut by a Florida Panther teammate’s skate during a game against the Sabres. Zednik recovered but missed the remainder of the season. In October of 2023, the last straw for the Safety and Protective Equipment Committee happened. An American playing overseas in the England Elite hockey league saw his final moments on the ice and a new rule was born. 

Impact on Youth, Girls, and Junior Age Classifications

Youth, girls, and junior hockey all fall under the same umbrella within USA Hockey. As of August 1st, 2024, all players and referees under the age of 18 will be required to wear a neck guard. This is a huge improvement for safety regulations under USA Hockey, as they have been pushing for this for nearly a decade. For the 2024-2025 upcoming season, this has been the only gear requirement change. In your first game or practice you will most likely notice it but eventually, that will pass and your thoughts will lie within the next play. 

Purchasing Guidelines for Neck Laceration Protectors

When looking for the right neck protection, start by measuring the neck with what is convenient around the house. Tape measure, shoelace, string, etc.. if you’re under 14’ inches, you will fit into a junior or youth neck guard. Anything above 14 inches is an adult-sized neck protector. These are not guaranteed measurements but will help you find the right size. When sizing, you want your neck protection to fit very tightly. Any loose or movable protection around the neck will cause distress for your player and will not be safely shielding your neck. Most come with velcro straps on the back to fit accordingly. 

Enforcement and Penalties

Players and referees under the age of 18, are required to have neck protection. Rule enforcement will be the same as any other equipment violation: an initial team warning followed by a 10-minute misconduct penalty for any violations after the initial warning. Coaches and parents will play an important role in helping make sure that players and officials are properly equipped before heading out to the ice for both practices and games, including wearing appropriate neck guards that are not altered.

FAQs on Neck Protection Requirement

  • What age groups are affected by the new neck protection requirement?
    • Neck laceration protectors are required for players in all age classifications except adults. For clarity, this includes youth, girls, and junior age classifications. Please see page 14 of the 2023-24 USA Hockey Annual Guide for the birth years associated with each age classification for the 2023-24 season. The requirement also includes on-ice officials under the age of 18.
  • Can a parent waiver exempt a player from wearing neck protection?
    • No, they cannot.
  • How can one choose the best neck laceration protector?
    • Choosing the correct neck guard is simple. Select one that covers most of your neck, as this will help prevent injuries. There are two main options. The original velcro strap, or a shirt that has a built-in neck guard.
  • What is the penalty for not wearing a neck laceration protector?
    • Rule enforcement will be the same as any other equipment violation: an initial team warning followed by a 10-minute misconduct penalty for any violations after the initial warning.

Protect Your Neck with HockeyMonkey

Players are required to wear a neck protector that is commercially designed and manufactured for that purpose. In this expensive sport we love, neck guards are reasonably affordable. Ranging from as little as 20 to 80 dollars, neck guards are available in a variety of styles in an attempt to make it safer, as well as more comfortable for the wearer. The implementation of neck guards may very well follow the mandatory use of helmets in the National Hockey League, with mandatory use of helmets beginning in 1979 and the last player to not have to wear a helmet retiring in 1996. With the professional hockey players being role models that they are, as more of them adopt the use of the neck guard we are likely to see youth hockey follow in their footsteps. Since the recent incident, neckguard sales have risen dramatically, placing the equipment on backorder. While manufacturers catch up with the demand, parents and players need to be patient as they look for this important piece of safety gear.