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Injured Former Hockey Player Proposes Safety Measure

A "play-puck-first" zone could reduce the amount of body-checking—and serious injuries—in the game.

Editor's Note: The following proposal comes from Dave Hawkins, a former hockey player living outside Toronto who broke his neck in a hockey injury more than 30 years ago and today is a C5/C6 quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. Hawkins emailed St. Louis Park Patch after reading about the injury to , the hockey player who was paralyzed in a game on Dec. 30.

Hockey needs a culture shift to promote safer play.

The Jablonski check was described as neither severe nor malicious. But it was illegally from behind and into the boards, and it had no place in a Minnesota high school hockey game. Also, it was nasty enough to leave Jablonski in the hospital. 

We need a "play-puck-first" zone (see photo). You would have to get input from administrators, coaches, doctors, referees and players to see how many feet away from the boards this zone would be painted on the ice. I believe once the players, coaches and referees all buy in to no body-checking in this play-puck-first-zone, everyone will benefit.

The players will learn if they even attempt a hit in this zone they are gone from the game. They will learn that in this zone, they battle, compete and play the puck only.

The zone will give both the coaches and referees the power and knowledge to make hockey a safer sport—and isn't that what we all want? I believe we can stop a lot of these broken necks and spinal cord injuries with a simple rule change to play the puck first.

-Dave Hawkins

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