No simple answers for hockey case [UPDATED]Published 9:03am Friday, January 6, 2012 Updated 11:04am Friday, January 6, 2012
The tragic case of Minnesota prep hockey player Jack Jablonski is bringing renewed attention to injury risks amateur hockey has long tried to reduce but, like all contact sports, will never be able to fully eliminate.
Jablonski, who plays for Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, was checked from behind in a junior varsity game last week. The illegal hit, which witnesses described as not malicious, sent him head-first into the boards.
Doctors said he fractured two vertebrae and severed his spinal cord. The 16-year-old junior underwent surgery Wednesday. Afterward, his family reported on his Caring Bridge website he would not walk again.
Questions have arisen about what can be done to prevent similar (but rare) tragedies. The reality is there are no easy answers. Here’s why:
First, youth hockey backers in Minnesota and across the country have spent years trying to make the game as safe as possible. Look no further than USA Hockey, the national governing body for ice hockey. In the past decade, many of its steps have focused on preventing hits from behind, hits to the upper body and malicious or unnecessary hits.
In fact, USA Hockey provides a 148-page booklet “Checking the Right Way for Youth Hockey,” to help all coaches and players.
USA Hockey’s governing board recently raised legal checking age from 12-and-under (Pee Wee) to 14-and-under (Bantams.) In Minnesota, the backs of jerseys at no-check ages include colored patches that remind approaching players not to make contact from behind.
Efforts are under way at the prep level, too. The National Federation of State High School Associations Ice Hockey Rules Committee, which governs Minnesota high schools, voted to increase the penalty for any contact with an opposing player’s head or neck area starting this season.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota State High School League on Tuesday issued a memo to coaches, referees and league officials that reiterated the dangers of checking from behind.
Naturally, some people are suggesting all checking be banned in boys’ prep hockey, which is the rule now for girls’ programs. That’s an issue worth studying, but again, hockey is a contact sport. Banning checking has not changed that for prep girls.
Whether a ban makes it substantially safer for prep boys is a fair question, but it likely won’t have an easy answer.
— St. Cloud Times