Death of Teddy Balkind Renews Neck Guard Debate


New York Rangers honor Teddy Balkind before game.

Hockey sticks have lined countless porches over the last few weeks. They were tributes to Teddy Balkind, a 10th grader at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, CT, who tragically passed away in a hockey game against the Brunswick School on January 6. Balkind was accidentally struck in the neck by an opponent’s skate at a game and rushed to the hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a hockey player has suffered a life-threatening injury due to a neck laceration. In 1989, Buffalo Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk suffered a collision next to the net, resulting in a skate slicing his neck. Jim Pizzutelli, an athletic trainer who had formerly served as a US combat medic, saved Malarchuk’s life. A similar injury happened to Richard Zednick, a forward for the Florida Panthers, in 2008, whose life was saved after immediate surgery.

In the days following Balkind’s death, the NHL, its players, and many others took to social media to express their condolences, using the #sticksoutforteddy hashtag. Balkind’s jersey was also hung in the locker rooms of NHL teams such as the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins while rinks across the country participated in pregame moments of silence. 

This recent event has reanimated the debate over the requirement of neck guards for amateur leagues, one that has been going on for decades. In the past, USA Hockey has only recommended neck guards for players, instead of mandating them. Interestingly, certain athletic conferences across the country, such as the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), do require the extra protection. However, these regulations are not widespread across the country; Hotchkiss’ athletic league, the New England Preparatory School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC) does not require neck guards.

Furthermore, the issue has caught the attention of Connecticut State Representative Nicole Klarides-Ditria, who plans to present legislation mandating neck guards in all interscholastic competitions to the Connecticut General Assembly in February. As a former athletic trainer, Klarides-Ditria explained that she felt the responsibility to jump into action after the incident and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again.  She said, “Coaches and athletic trainers focus on trying to prevent and treat athletic injuries to keep players safe, but with this simple rule change the legislature has the potential to save lives.”

Balkind’s death has sent shockwaves around the whole hockey community, but especially among younger players. Sam Brande, a close friend of Balkind’s, started a petition following the accident to raise awareness for the lack of safety rules in USA hockey. As of now, the petition has over 100,000 signatures.

As Hotchkiss Hockey returns to Dwyer and Schmidt, both players and coaches alike are learning from the tragedy of Teddy Balkind. Boys Varsity Hockey Head Coach Michael Traggio said, “What an incredibly sad and tragic story about Teddy Balkind. As a parent, you never want to imagine something like this will happen. Each league plays by their own differing set of rules, some require neck guards while others recommend them. I know our governing league is discussing the issue, we will support whatever they decide.”