Max Jablonski rides shotgun in a dune buggy filled to its five-person capacity with kids from . He wears a white hockey jersey tattooed with dozens of signatures as he and his pals putter around Excelsior Bay. On rinks nearby pond hockey games are being played in honor of his older brother, Jack, who was paralyzed last month during a junior varsity hockey game.
“My brother is doing alright,” Max said. “He’s really touched and motivated by all the support.”
In the driver’s seat next to Max is 15-year-old Mario Zattoni—one of the organizers of Sunday’s Jack Jablonski Junior Bronze Pond Tournament on Lake Minnetonka. Planning for the fundraiser began soon after Jablonski was injured Dec. 30 during a game against Wayzata, and Zattoni said it became clear early on that a large venue would be needed to accommodate the anticipated turnout.
“Jack is the kind of kid who always has a smile on his face, and everyone knows him,” Zattoni said. “He’s the kind of kid that everyone else wants to talk to and be around. He makes everyone feel good.”
With guests by the hundreds confirming their attendance at the tournament via Facebook, the three boys leading the organizing effort—supported by their parents—quickly turned to Lake Minnetonka. They soon found themselves partnering with the Pond Hockey North American Championships organizers, who Zattoni said were more than willing to incorporate the Jablonski fundraiser into this year’s weekend of games on Excelsior Bay.
He also made a point to stress the cooperation extended by both Maynards and the Bayview Event Center.
Zattoni’s dad, John, said he couldn’t be happier with Mario and his friends, saying the final product was something the boys should be very proud of.
“It’s a great day for hockey,” he said. “It turned out beautifully.”
Between the final day of pond hockey championship action and the Jack Jablonski fundraiser, 12-year-old rink rat Ben Wheaton had all the ice time and scrimmaging he could handle on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a lot of fun out here,” the Minnetonka Middle School East student said. “I had a team last year, but not this year. Next year I want to again.”
Ben’s dad, John, was on the ice skating in this year’s pond hockey championships for the Late Comers—a team of men over age 45 who by early Sunday afternoon remained undefeated.
“This is a Minnesota cultural experience—playing hockey and enjoying hockey outside like this,” John said.
The entire Wheaton clan, minus one son, made the short trip from their home in Deephaven to Excelsior Bay for Sunday’s games, and John said nobody was having trouble finding activities and fun on the ice.
“It’s unique, and the way they’re doing it this year is great with the fundraiser,” he said.
Alex Minea is a senior at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and says he knows Jack Jablonski only casually.
But assembling a team to skate in this weekend’s pond hockey tournament started as soon as Minea and his friends heard about the fundraiser. On Sunday, eight BSM upperclassmen calling themselves Macaroni and Puck were among the dozens of teams lacing up skates.
“We’re out here because we want to support our classmate—to show a kid from our school that we’re behind him,” Minea said.
The Pond Hockey North American Championships and the Jack Jablonski Junior Bronze Pond Tournament are both part of Hockey Blast 2012—an annual Minnesota celebration of hockey. This year’s festivities were dedicated to Jack Jablonski and included a telethon and online auction organized by the Minnesota Wild.
A slate of high school hockey games scheduled to be played in Excelsior on outdoor rinks Saturday as part of Hockey Day Minnesota were moved inside due to concerns over ice conditions, but those games—as well as those played by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Wild—were also dedicated to Jablonski. In all, nearly $200,000 was raised over the weekend for the Jack Jablonski Fund.
Back in the dune buggy on Excelsior Bay, Jablonski’s little brother said the scope and scale of those showing support for his family has been both overwhelming and inspiring.
“This is beyond anything I ever thought, it’s really amazing,” he said. “My brother has said countless times how much it means to him.”