The KIJHL says all players will be required to wear neck protection as of Thursday following the death of an American hockey player.
Former Pittsburgh Penguins player Adam Johnson died during a game in England on Oct. 28 after his neck was cut by a skate blade.
Since then, the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have each announced neck guards will be made mandatory for any on-ice activities.
The KIJHL followed suit Thursday for its approximately 500 players. The league said the policy is effective immediately, but consideration will be given for teams needing time to acquire equipment.
KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois said internal discussions about adopting neck guards began after details of Johnson’s death became public.
“By yesterday afternoon, we’d gotten enough feedback. It was pretty much unanimous in terms of our teams, whether we’re talking to governors, coaches, GMs, we had enough feedback that everybody was really comfortable going in this direction.”
Dubois said skate cuts of any type are relatively rare in the league, and that he hadn’t previously been asked about neck protection during his three years as commissioner.
Since last weekend, however, he’s received calls from parents asking for a change. Hockey Canada already stipulates all minor hockey players wear BNQ-certified throat protection, but that rule doesn’t apply to junior leagues.
“Obviously what happened last weekend with Adam Johnson was as bad and as gruesome as it gets, and all of a sudden it’s on everybody’s radar and there is a certain urgency that didn’t exist previously. I’m not at all surprised by the response here.”
Dubois doesn’t expect every player will have neck protection in their upcoming games. Some will still have their equipment from minor hockey, and the league has directed teams to report back on local supply. He said the KIJHL may also consider buying in bulk if there is a demand.
Neck guards are not mandatory in the NHL, where there has never been a death from a skate cut. But there have been serious injuries.
In 1989, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk suffered a near-fatal slash from a skate blade to his neck. In 2008, Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik required life-saving surgery when his neck was accidentally cut by a teammate’s skate.
Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane also had his wrist sliced open by a skate in 2022.