See more of the story

Memorials to Adam Johnson will hang on the neck of every high school hockey player in America next season.

The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) revealed Thursday it will mandate neck guards for all of the nation's high school programs when teams take to the ice again later this year.

Johnson, a Hibbing High School graduate and former University of Minnesota Duluth hockey player, died Oct. 28 after he was hit in the throat by an opponent's skate blade while playing for the Nottingham Panthers of England's Elite Hockey League. His death led to a worldwide reckoning regarding the use of neck guards in hockey.

Hockey organizations commonly have not required neck guards, and they are not regularly used in the NHL, college or top-level minor leagues; players say they are uncomfortable or restrict movement. Since Johnson died, some organizations such as the International Ice Hockey Federation have ordered the use of neck guards, and more players have chosen to use them and spoken out in favor of using them.

USA Hockey made a decision in January in line with the NFHS ruling, mandating neck protection for players 18 and younger and some 19-year-olds starting Aug. 1. It recommended neck protection for older players but did not require it.

The NFHS decision affects more than 40,000 athletes nationwide; 33,013 boys at 1,601 high schools and 8,601 girls at 713 schools played hockey in 2022-23, the most recent year for which data is available. According to the NFHS, 4,925 boys and 3,328 girls played high school hockey in Minnesota that season. A Minnesota State High School League official verified the rule change will apply to Minnesota teams and released a statement: "The Minnesota State High School League believes that risk minimization and the health and safety of all student-participants is imperative. Historically, the league has strongly recommended neck laceration protectors in hockey, and the league's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee is in full support of this NFHS rules change. This rules change aligns the Federation and League safety measures with other governing bodies, such as USA Hockey, to ensure the health and safety of all participants."

Mandating neck protectors for high school players is now NFHS Rule 3-4-4. The most successful boys hockey coach in Minnesota history approves.

"Any time you can avoid something that tragic, you have to act," said Mike Randolph, who has 707 victories, tied with Lorne Grosso for No. 1 in Minnesota history.

Randolph, who coached at St. Thomas Academy the past three seasons and will coach the Northern Lakes co-op program next season, said he's "personally attached" to the issue: His son Jake played youth hockey with Johnson.

Randolph said he and St. Thomas Academy activities director Reid Hornung reacted immediately after Johnson's death to make certain all Cadets players wore neck protection. He'll do the same at Northern Lakes, he said, as soon as the school district approves his hiring, a decision to be made at a meeting Monday. "I will have that in place right away," he said.

Neck guards come in various forms. Some are turtlenecks with built-in protection, and some wrap around the neck. They often use Kevlar, the same product employed in bullet-resistant vests.

Randolph's point: Let's make prep hockey players bullet-resistant, too.

"When you can save a life, you do all you can," he said. "It's a great game. It's a dangerous game. We have to protect the athletes."