The International Ice Hockey Federation announced Monday it is making neck guards mandatory for all levels of competition in the tournaments it runs, including the Olympics and men's and women's world championships.
The mandate would not apply to professional leagues, including the NHL, which currently does not have any cut-proof safety requirements for players. Any sort of mandate in the NHL would require an agreement between the league and players' union, which have been discussing skate blade safety for years.
The IIHF's move comes after the death of American Adam Johnson, whose neck was cut by a skate blade during a game in England in late October. Johnson's death at age 29 is being investigated, and the on-ice tragedy has sparked significant debate around the sport about the need for more protection of the neck, wrists and legs.
The exact date for the IIHF neck guard mandate to go into place is still to be determined, based on the supply of neck guards available.
"The IIHF remains in close contact with its suppliers to ensure they are able to respond to the current high demand," the organization said. "Until the rule officially goes into effect, the IIHF continues to strongly recommend that neck laceration protectors are worn by all players performing in an IIHF competition."
Before now, the IIHF initially had neck protection rules only for under-20 and under-18 play, so neck guards were already mandatory in tournaments like the world junior championship. The organization that governs hockey around the world decided to widen the order based on the recommendation of its medical committee.
The English Ice Hockey Association, which governs the sport below the Elite League where Johnson played, reacted to his death by requiring all players in England to wear neck guards beginning in 2024. Similar to the IIHF, the mandate was not immediate because of supply issues.
NHL VP of hockey operations Rod Pasma addressed general managers last month on cut-proof equipment. Pasma said players have far more options than a decade ago, including 10 or more choices for wrist, body and Achilles tendon/foot protection but fewer options for neck guards.
"In the neck, we're getting there," Pasma said. "We (did not have) many a month ago, but as it sits today, I think there's up to eight companies on my desk waiting to be cleared, and of those eight there's probably 12-14 options to wear, should they choose."
Several NHL players, including Washington's T.J. Oshie and Tampa Bay's Cole Koepke, have donned neck guards for games this season in light of Johnson's death.
"NHL guys, I think it's super important that they know it's going to be available," Oshie said. "We're grown men. If you don't want to do it, you don't. At least now, middle of the season, I don't know if it's necessary to mandate it, but you can make your own choices. I made my choice for my kids. I want to stick around from them. Just trying to decrease the chance of injury."
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