MORRIS, Conn (WTNH) – “We’ve known Teddy since he was 8 years old and we are absolutely shattered,” says Kris Ebner-Martin whose family owns and operates Camp Awosting on Bantam Lake.
Teddy Balkind of New Canaan died last week after a high school hockey accident.
Ebner-Martin says his smile was like sunshine: “He’s vivacious, he’s loving, he’s kind.”
And it’s not just those who knew Balkind that are struggling. The hockey community is grappling to understand the death of the 16-year-old player. While on the rink, his neck was cut by the skate of another player, during a collision.
RELATED: New Canaan Police identify high school hockey player who died after on-ice collision
“It’s such a tragic event that it shakes you – I run an organization – but even as a parent,” says Gary Gordon, President of ECHO – the Eastern Connecticut Hockey Organization – out of Bolton. He’s also the dad of three players.
“It’s like any sport – football, baseball, hockey – you should wear the protective equipment that’s there,” he says.
Balkind was not wearing a neck protector, recommended by USA Hockey but not required.
Recently, the 10th grader’s friend, Sam Brande, started an online petition, asking the governing body for organized ice hockey to mandate the safety gear.
RELATED: Friend of Teddy Balkind creates petition asking USA Hockey to require neck guards
More than 68,000 people have already signed it.
“I’m not saying a neck guard would have saved his life. It feels like it could have been an avoidable accident. It was a total freak accident to no one’s fault. And it feels like we didn’t have to experience it if there was already a rule in place,” says Brande.
“It’s pretty simple. You have a piece of dry-fit under armor. Kevlar is sewn into the neck,” explains Gordon.
The hockey community – which Gordon calls a tight-knit family – has been supporting the Balkinds with a #SticksOutForTeddy movement on social media.
Ebner-Martin says the camp is sharing its own hashtag in honor of the teen.
“He was very into water skiing and wakeboarding, so we have a new hashtag we created – #BeMoreTeddy – that we’re going to put on the bottom of a brand new wakeboard this summer,” says Ebner-Martin.
Campers are being offered grief resources while hockey families are having in-depth conversations, trying to wrap their minds around the devastating loss, hoping this rare event never happens again.
“It’s such a tragedy but I think you move forward by wearing that equipment and recommending people wear it going forward,” says Gordon.
The neck guards are mandatory in Canada. Our emails and calls to USA Hockey for reaction to the petition went unanswered.