Wearing an oversized No. 13 jersey, Max Jablonski raced out onto the ice Saturday night with the Benilde-St. Margaret's boys varsity hockey players beside him, symbolically proving that his older brother is still very much a part of this team.
The Red Knights beat crosstown rival St. Louis Park 7-0 at the , but the final score hardly mattered. It was a night to honor No. 13, Jack Jablonski, the BSM sophomore who was paralyzed from a hit he took in a game on Dec. 30. And in getting back on the ice, it was a chance for the BSM hockey community to take a step back toward normal.
“Tonight was about two things. It was about honoring Jack for the first time as a hockey program. I know the guys were proud to do that," BSM head coach Ken Pauly said. "Second, and less important, was for us to get back on the ice. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have been happy had we lost, but for us to just get back out there and play was a win for us tonight."
That point was evident on the scoreboard in the third period—it read "13-13" as the clock ticked down, underscoring Jablonski's impact on the game.
"It was truly amazing getting out on the ice and just playing again,” said BSM senior defenseman Jake Horton. "(Jack’s) still with us, and he’ll continue being with us no matter what."
With fans decked in white, the BSM student section got loud early, letting loose a week's worth of emotion in a healthy way. Things certainly aren't back to normal, but playing hockey again—especially after BSM's first scheduled game following Jablonski's injury was postponed—is a step in the right direction.
“We kind of breathed a sigh of relief after the game," sophomore forward Zach Hale said. "You just feel good about the team. We’re going to try to use this moving forward. And we’ll keep supporting Jack."
Before the game, the players and coaches received good news that they said had them crying tears of joy in the locker room—Jablonski moved his arms several times earlier in the day on command, which wasn't expected of him so soon, his mother, Leslie, said.
"We're under no illusions—we know it's a long road. But it fills us with hope," Pauly said. "There were a lot of tears in the locker room when I gave them that information. We're looking for a miracle, and we'll take every small one we've got right now. They'll add up to a big one."
Leslie Jablonski attended the game and appeared to be in good spirits. She said the outpouring of support all week, as well as Saturday night at the Rec, has been amazing.
Signs of that support were everywhere in the arena. Scores of fans wore white shirts with the No. 13 on the back, many with encouraging messages for "Jabby." In the hallway outside the rink, a table was set up for the Jack Jablonski Fund.
Before the game, St. Louis Park took its pregame skate in white jerseys, keeping the week's "whiteout" theme alive. The Orioles, who were the road team, switched to orange before the puck dropped. Right before the game started, both teams observed a 13-second moment of silence.
St. Louis Park coach Shjon Podein said he was happy to see the two teams take the ice again. While Jablonski didn't play for the Orioles, he did play with a lot of the Park players in the youth ranks over the years, and Podein said a lot of his players were very close with Jablonski.
"It’s like seeing your brother not being able to do the thing he loves most in the world," he said. "That’s hard ... (But) the last thing Jack would want is for us to sit and pout and give up. He wants us to chase our passions and chase our dreams."
BSM JV Returns to Ice, Too
It was an equally emotional night for members of the BSM junior varsity, who also took to the ice for the first time since Jablonski's injury, which occurred during a JV game.
The Red Knights got off to a slow start but ended up with a 4-1 win.
"I was concerned about how our guys would respond, given the emotions," JV coach Chris McGowan said. "It took us a while, but I think once we got through the second period, we started to wake up a bit. But it was tough getting going. I just think this is the first step in a long road for us."
McGowan said he felt Saturday night was an important milestone in the healing process for the entire BSM hockey community.
"I thought it was huge," he said. "These guys are slowly coming to reality with the situation, and they’re trying to learn how to deal with it. And getting back on game ice was the first step."