The family of Jack Jablonski was joined by his high school coach and a Minnesota hockey legend on Thursday in an effort to promote stricter rule enforcement and, ultimately, safer play in youth hockey.
Jablonski, a sophomore, was paralyzed after he took a check from behind and crashed into the boards during a game on Dec. 30. Jablonski has regained some movement in his arms, but he is .
His parents, Mike and Leslie Jablonski, are now calling on youth hockey officials to take a closer look at the game's rules and better enforce penalties on illegal hits like the one Jack took. As part of the effort, the website jackspledge.com has been set up, where players and coaches can take "Jack's Pledge" and .
"We’re here today to try to make changes in hockey," Leslie Jablonski said. "We want it to be a safer sport."
Noting the injury to her own son, as well as the similar injury suffered by St. Croix Lutheran hockey player Jenna Privette a few days later, Leslie Jablonski said she wants to help prevent future incidents.
"There are two teens lying upstairs who can’t move, and we don’t ever want this to happen again," she said.
Added Mike Jablonski: “If we don’t do anything, there will be a parent up here 12 months from now in our shoes. And we can't let that happen.”
The Jablonskis were joined in their call to action by BSM varsity boys hockey coach Ken Pauly and former Minnesota North Stars coach and general manager Lou Nanne, who both said hockey rules don't necessarily need to change, but enforcement of serious penalties needs to get stronger.
"To be honest, I think (changing the rules) is irrelevant," said Pauly, who is also president of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association. "What’s relevant is how we apply these things and how we enforce these things.”
Nanne agreed, saying that making hockey safer doesn't have to involve blowing the sport up.
"We want to change hockey for the better without changing the game,” he said.
Nanne said a key will be for coaches to emphasize proper, legal body contact from the earliest ages, getting players in the mindset to hit, but not maliciously. He said in talking with various hockey leaders across the state, he believes there is strong support for this mentality.
USA Hockey, the governing board that oversees youth hockey leagues across the country, as well as the Minnesota State High School League both recently sent out memos to players, coaches and officials, reminding them of the dangers of checking from behind and encouraging strong enforcement of the rules in an effort to keep players safe.
Pauly said in the two games his team has played since Jack's injury, he has noticed referees calling a tighter game.
“You can tell referees have a heightened awareness," he said. “There were things called that I know wouldn’t have been called two weeks ago.”
And coaches, Pauly said, haven't complained.
“Not a peep,” he said. “(The referees) are keeping kids safe out there ... As coaches, we have to understand that officials’ first responsibility is to keep the players safe.”