Minnetonka family urges hockey neck protection after son's close call with skate blade

With the spotlight on hockey neck protection following a high-profile, on-ice tragedy, we are hearing from a young player from Minnetonka, who narrowly missed disaster by fractions of an inch. Gavin Pelstring, now 11 years old, wants to share his story in hopes everyone will put on a neck guard before stepping on the ice.

Two years ago, while playing Squirt level hockey for Tonka, Pelstring described tripping and falling to the ice during a scrum in front of the goal. He believes it was a teammate whose skate blade came right down on his exposed neck, leaving him with a deep gash.

"There was blood on the ice," Pelstring told FOX9’s Paul Blume. "It didn't even hurt. It just kind of shocked me."

"Very, very close. Narrowly missed his carotid artery. So, we were very, very lucky that he made it," added Gavin’s mother, Jen Pelstring.

Jen was not at that game, describing the call as the worst moment of parenting. She met up with her son on his way to Urgent Care where he required six stitches and three butterfly strips to close the wound. Today, there is the faintest physical scar, but it is the emotional and psychological scars still causing pain.

After making a brief comeback from the injury a couple of weeks later, Gavin eventually gave up playing competitive hockey, though he still absolutely loves the sport, and cheering on the Skippers and the Minnesota Wild. He tells everyone he knows, to make sure they protect themselves out on the ice.

"Just put on your neckguards," Pelstring says. "You may not look cool or whatever, but you could be like me, and maybe even a little less lucky. So, you should always put it on no matter what."

The tragic death of Hibbing native Adam Johnson last week, when an opponent’s skate blade appeared to slash across Johnson’s neck during an open ice hit in England, has really shaken the Pelstring family. Gavin always wore a neck guard as Tonka’s youth hockey district mandates, but he did not have it on for that one game. His mother still has nightmares about what her son’s medical team told her about his skate blade gash.

"’You were this close’. And she held up her hands. He was not looking, thankfully. And she just, ‘You were this close.’ So, yeah, it was terrifying."

Johnson is set to be laid to rest on Monday.