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Teddy Balkind’s death sparks call for mandatory neck guards

HARTFORD, Connecticut The EO Smith-Tolland hockey team gathered to discuss the tragic event in their sport last week, an event that struck so close to home.

The room fell silent. Then came the most important message young players could receive following the death of Connecticut high school hockey player Teddy Balkind on January 6.

“When we’ve talked about it, it’s a chance to remind the kids that,” said OE Smith-Tolland coach John Hodgson. “Here’s something you think is extra and you don’t need. It is very rare for something like this to happen, but when it does, it can be fatal. We had a moment of silence, then, “So let’s make sure we have all of our gear. “

Balkind, 16, was playing in a junior varsity game for St. Luke’s, a New Canaan-based preschool, last Thursday at Brunswick School in Greenwich when he fell on the ice. Another player near him could not stop and collided with him. The game was stopped and 911 was called.

The grade 10 student was rushed to hospital, where he died of his injury.

Connecticut’s chief medical examiner said Balkind died from an incision in his neck and called the death an accident, according to multiple media outlets.

The tragedy sparked waves of sympathy and support from the global hockey community and calls for change. In the case of Team EO Smith-Tolland and other schools in the state, rules to prevent such a tragedy have been in place since 2001.

“Commercially manufactured throat guards designed specifically for ice hockey are required for all players, including goaltenders during the regular season and tournaments,” state Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference rules.

St. Luke’s and Brunswick play in the Fairchester Athletic Association, which, like most preschool conferences, follows USA Hockey and NCAA policy, which recommends rather than requiring neck guards.

“The NCAA does not require a neck on the ice,” said John Hissick, coach of Kingswood Oxford in West Hartford, member of the Fairchester and New England Prep School Athletic Conference. “And so so far, I can’t honestly say that this has never been a problem or even been discussed.”

It has changed a lot. Hissick, whose child wears a collar as required by Connecticut youth hockey, said conversations were already taking place within the conference.

“Honestly, I don’t see how that can’t change,” he said, “(but) as a coach I don’t have the power to make those calls… I have to follow the rules that are given to me. “

Over the weekend, Sam Brande, a Massachusetts high school player and close friend of Balkind’s, started a petition on asking USA Hockey to make neck guards mandatory.

“I lost one of my best friends to the lack of player safety rules in USA Hockey,” Brande wrote on the site. “Please consider signing this so that we can raise awareness and no one needs to lose a loved one or a life in a preventable accident. “

As of Tuesday morning, the petition had more than 50,000 supporters. Stores selling hockey equipment in the area have seen an increase in the number of customers looking to purchase protective gear.

“There is definitely an influx of families who are concerned about safety,” said Dan Larochelle of Pure Hockey in West Hartford.

Neck guards are typically made of an impact resistant plastic, such as Lexan or Kevlar, or ballistic nylon designed to resist cuts. They are lightweight and cover most of the neck, securing with Velcro on the back. It is not known for sure if Balkind was wearing a throat protector.

“They make us wear helmets, they make us wear gloves, they make us wear hats, they make us wear shin guards,” Brande told News12 Connecticut’s Marissa Altar. “I don’t know why they don’t make us wear neck protectors. “

In Connecticut high school games, players who do not wear adequate neck protection face penalties, usually after a warning. Referees will likely be reminded to watch more closely.

“I didn’t find it to be a big deal with the kids,” Hodgson said. “Sometimes that’s a minor inconvenience for a high school kid, but if you make that part of the deal, he just does it. You have something wrapped around your neck, most of us don’t go through the day like that, so you feel it. But you’ve got your body full of gear, so I don’t think that has a major impact.

The danger of playing hockey without throat protection has been well known for over 30 years.

  • On March 22, 1989, Buffalo Sabers goaltender Clint Malarchuk nearly died when his throat was slit by a skate, severing his carotid artery and partially severing his chin strap. The enormous amount of blood on the ice caused several spectators to pass out. Sabers athletic trainer Jim Pizzutelli, who had been a US Army combat medic in Vietnam, pinched and held Malarchuk’s neck until medics arrived, saving his life. Many NHL goaltenders now wear neck guards, but they are not mandatory equipment.
  • Bengt Akerblom, who was playing in the Swedish Elite League, died when his neck was lacerated by a skate in 1995.
  • In 2008, Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers suffered a similar, potentially fatal injury, requiring emergency surgery to repair his carotid artery.

  • In 2017, a neck protector appeared to save the life of Canadian teenager Cassidy Gordon, who was injured but not badly cut, she was hit in the neck by a skate. “No matter how silly or uncool you think it looks, it is definitely an important thing to wear because it is the difference between having an injury that can end your career, or even your life. , and just be safe, ”Gordon told CBC.


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