Wyatt Kaiser of the Chicago Blackhawks with the neckguard. © Getty Images

Just over a month after the passing of Adam Johnson, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is changing rules and introducing the mandatory use of neck protection. This will be enforced in future IIHF World Championships and Olympic Games.

In late October, the world was shocked by the news of the untimely death of the American rising star, Adam Johnson. He succumbed to a fatal throat injury during a match, having received a lethal kick to the neck with a skate blade from an opponent of the Sheffield Steelers in a game for the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) Challenge Cup. The incident is currently under investigation by UK police as involuntary manslaughter, with Matt Petgrave being the accused in the eyes of British justice.

That fateful October 28th in England will go down in history as a turning point for the sport, not only due to the tragedy on the ice but also because it prompted a heightened awareness of the most crucial aspect of sports—the health and safety of the athletes themselves. Without them, there is no show; without a show, there are no fans, no television, and no associated business.

In response, after taking the time to deliberate and seek expert opinions from the IIHF Council's Medical Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) approved a new rule for ice hockey games. Hoping to prevent future tragedies like this one, the IIHF decided to make neck protection mandatory for all its competitors.

Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie supports neck protection rule. © Getty Images
Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie supports neck protection rule. © Getty Images

"The IIHF Council, following the recommendation of its Medical Committee, has decided to require the use of a laceration-resistant neck protector, specifically designed for this purpose, at all levels of IIHF competitions," the IIHF stated in a press release. "Laceration-resistant neck protectors are now mandatory for senior categories, in addition to the U20 and U18 categories, for which laceration-resistant neck protectors were already in force according to the IIHF Official Rule Book."

This measure was announced as mandatory starting from the next season and is not yet 100% in effect as there is no effective date due to the unavailability of all protectors at this time. However, immediate use is recommended, even as all necessary measures are being taken towards that end. In other words, it will become mandatory as protectors are acquired and distributed.

This rule will apply to amateur competitions, the Olympic Games, and both men's and women's World Championships, although the NHL and professional leagues are exempt for now.

Cole Koepke (Tampa Bay Lightning), wearing a neck guard. © Getty Images
Cole Koepke (Tampa Bay Lightning), wearing a neck guard. © Getty Images

For the NHL (independent of the IIHF and lacking safety measures for athletes) to enforce it, an agreement between the league and the players' union will be needed. Beyond that, since the October tragedy, many players have started using it voluntarily.

The IIHF maintains close contact with manufacturers to ensure they can meet the current high demand. Until the rule officially takes effect, the IIHF strongly recommends that all players participating in IIHF competitions wear laceration-resistant neck protectors, as stated in a released statement.

Although the exact date for the implementation of the IIHF neck protection mandate is still to be determined, it is crucial given the decision made and the obligation to use it in the future. The health of athletes should always be the priority, and the IIHF seemed to understand this following the unfortunate event in late October.