NHIAA hockey coaches welcome new NFHS neck guard mandate

May 17—The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) announced Thursday that all high school hockey players will be required to wear neck laceration protectors beginning next season, a decision several NHIAA coaches support.

The NFHS' mandate comes after former NHL player Adam Johnson died from suffering a fatal cut to his neck during a professional game in England last fall.

USA Hockey announced in January that it will require neck laceration protection for players and on-ice officials under the age of 18 starting on Aug. 1.

The vast majority of players in North America, from high school through college and the pros, do not wear neck protection. Notable NHL exceptions are Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals.

"If the equipment's out there and it's something that could save somebody's life or (prevent) a horrible injury, I don't see why we wouldn't make it mandatory for the protection of the player," said Jeremy Baker, head coach of the Manchester co-op boys hockey team.

Baker also coaches in the Manchester Flames youth hockey organization.

The Flames, Baker said, have required players from the Mites to Bantam levels to wear neck guards for several years and, as per USA Hockey, will mandate high school-aged players to as well next season.

Baker had his son, Zach, a junior defenseman for Pinkerton Academy, wear a neck guard in youth hockey. When he played at Memorial, Baker suffered a cut from a skate near his ribs, which required 27 stitches.

"Skates, obviously, the sharpness and the speed of the game and the blunt force that sometimes they contact you with can do serious damage," Baker said.

Paul DiMarino has been with the Exeter boys hockey program for eight seasons, the past five as its head coach. He said the Blue Hawks usually have one or two players wear neck guards but last year four wore them — the most over his time with the program.

Hanover boys hockey coach Dick Dodds said he tried to buy neck guards for his players before last season started but they were sold out everywhere he looked. A few of his players got neck guards on their own and wore them.

Halfway through last season, Baker said, some Manchester co-op players began wearing shirts that included neck protectors.

Even before the NFHS decision, the Vermont Principals' Association and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference both required their high school hockey teams to wear neck guards.

"I've read enough bad things that had happened to players that didn't need to happen," Dodds said. "This eases, at least, my mind."

Players might not like the mandate at first, said DiMarino, because they've never been required to wear the neck guards. But they'll adjust quickly, he said.

Baker and DiMarino said they expect players will want to purchase their own neck guards rather than receive school-issued ones just because of how much players sweat during practices and games.

"I'm not surprised by it," DiMarino said of the mandate. "If it's going to keep kids safe, I understand why they came to this ruling."