Bill inspired by death of New Canaan hockey player approved, but does it go far enough?

A bill inspired by the death of a young New Canaan hockey player passed the Connecticut House of Representatives on Tuesday, but it didn’t go as far as some had hoped.

Teddy Balkind, a tenth grade student at St. Luke’s School, was killed Jan. 6 when another player’s skate accidentally cut his neck. The case led to a national debate over whether young hockey players should be required to wear neck guards.

One of Balkind’s friends started an online petition to make the change.

“I just don’t want anyone going through what I and my community went through,” said fellow hockey player Samuel Brande.

Instead, the Connecticut House approved a invoice to study the issue. A nine-member task force will make recommendations by the end of this year, with broader youth sports recommendations by the end of 2023.

State Representative Nicole Klarides-Ditria (R-Seymour) said the bill is an important compromise.

“I immediately put on my sports training hat and said, ‘We have to do something. We need to do more research,'” she said.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference already requires neck guards for public schools, but the CIAC does not have jurisdiction over private institutions like St. Luke’s or community youth hockey leagues. A previous invoice would have expanded the mandate to all hockey teams, but the Connecticut State Medical Society opposite Bill, saying there is not “sufficient medical evidence” that neck guards prevent neck lacerations.

“It’s one of those things that I think everyone was thinking, ‘Everyone should just wear neck guards,'” House Majority Leader Jason Rojas (D-Hartford) said. “And then when you go into this process and really dig into how this policy works, there was a decision to go back to a working group.”

The state Senate expects to approve the youth hockey task force within the next two weeks. Then Governor Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill.

Catherine J. Martinez