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Death Of 16-Year-Old Hockey Player Teddy Balkind Prompts Push To Mandate Neck Guards

NEW CANAAN, Conn. (CBSNewYork) -- There is a push to mandate neck guards for young hockey players in Connecticut after a 10th grade boy was killed during an on-ice incident last week.

The death of 16-year-old Teddy Balkind has sent shockwaves in the Connecticut community.

The teenager died last week after receiving a cut to the neck from another player's skate during a game between his school, St. Luke's, and Brunswick School.

Teddy's friend Samuel Brande is now advocating for change.

"I'm going to get a rule changed. I'm gonna make kids wear neck guards. I'm going to make hockey safe," he said.

As CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reports, he's started a petition urging USA Hockey to start requiring neck guards for players.

"We wear helmets, we wear shin pads, we wear gloves, we wear chest protectors. Neck guards should be up in that category and they're not," Samuel said.

Currently, USA Hockey and its state affiliate, the Connecticut Hockey Conference, that govern youth hockey only recommend neck guards.

Locally, the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) that oversees Teddy's school also does not require them, though its public school equivalent, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, does.

"We wouldn't be able to enforce it because we're the only people who require it, and if 49 other states don't feel it's necessary, what makes you a better expert than anybody else?" said Art Blakeslee, vice president of the Connecticut Hockey Conference.

Blakeslee says up until 2018, Connecticut was the only state to require neck guards, but pushback from players and parents led to the group to soften its stance.

The group is now reconsidering its position.

"No one has shown me any evidence where a neck guard has injured a player, and this is, unfortunately, the perfect example of how potentially a neck guard might have saved a player from injury," Blakeslee said.

Many hockey parents and coaches agree.

Coach Matthew Cook says while neck lacerations are rare and guards are not perfect, it is time for USA Hockey to reevaluate its rules.

"We need to understand, you know, what happened, how it happened, how could we prevent it," he said. "Any form of protection, I think, is better than nothing."

USA Hockey tells us there is not enough evidence and data for the group to confidently mandate neck guards for players safely. The group emphasizes it does highly recommend them and says it is meeting in Florida this week for an annual conference where the topic will be discussed.

It remains unclear whether Teddy was wearing a neck guard when the accident happened.

Meanwhile, NEPSAC released the following statement:

"NEPSAC continues to extend its support and care to the St. Luke's and Brunswick School communities. Nothing is more important to NEPSAC than fostering an athletic experience that is both enriching and safe. As is our charge, NEPSAC continually examines rules of play that govern our sports in partnership with our Sport Medicine Advisory Committee. As always, we will share more with our community should our standards change."

We reached out to the NCAA and the Fairchester Athletics Association for comment to confirm if St. Luke's follows its rules of play. We have yet to hear back.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.

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