Hold off on the hits

Posted: January 27, 2012

Excessive force in hockey must be stopped to prevent future injuries

Frances Hoekstra, Talon staff writer

You don’t have to know somebody to pray for them.

This is the mantra that took over Twitter, Facebook, news media and the hearts of Minnesotans and beyond regarding Benilde-St. Margaret sophomore hockey player Jack Jablonski, paralyzed after a devastating hit from behind during a Dec. 30 game against Wayzata.

After the collision, which occurred with nine minutes remaining in the game,  Jablonski told his father that he couldn’t feel his hands and feet. He regained minimal movement in his shoulders and right arm after being put in a brace, but is still mostly paralyzed after his Jan. 4 surgery on his spinal chord. The prognosis given by Jablonski’s doctors is that he will never be able to walk or skate again.

Jablonski was checked from behind into the boards, an illegal hit not only at the high school level but also the National Hockey League (though the hit on Jablonski was not malicious or intended).

A check from behind is defined as “a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body,” according to rule 43.1 in the NHL Official Rules. The Minnesota State High School League has recently announced that beginning Jan. 16 all checks from behind, boarding or head contact calls will receive at least a five minute major penalty.

But how much is really being done to discourage these types of hits?

At the youth level all hockey players are required to wear neon patches on the back of their jerseys that say “STOP” to remind opponents not to check from behind.

“I was frightened [when I heard about Jablonski],” said Minnehaha sophomore defenseman Luke Erickson. “It’s [horrible] to see somebody get hurt in the sport that he loves. It’s a one-in-a-million chance, and I just wouldn’t want to be in that situation.”

As equipment advances and  young players are bigger and faster than ever, the physical force associated with hockey has turned it into more than just a game. Many spectators and participants of the sport enjoy on-ice fights and turn a blind eye to dirty hits.

Former Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers left winger Derek Boogaard died in May 2011 due to substance abuse while recovering from a concussion. However, when researchers at the Bedford V.A. Medical Center in Massachusetts studied Boogaard’s brain they discovered that Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head and symptoms include memory loss, impulsive behavior and in some cases even addiction. Four out of four deceased hockey players studied have been found to also have the disease.

The force used in hockey has escalated to a point far beyond the love of the game. Careless hits and excessive force has claimed the life of a talented professional hockey player, and now has sent a 16-year-old friend, son and teammate down an unwalkable road.

The second major hockey injury in a week occurred in the Minnehaha Saints’ (a co-op of Minnehaha, St. Agnes and St. Croix Lutheran) Jan. 6 game against the St. Paul Blades, where St. Croix senior center Jenna Privette was seriously injured and hospitalized after falling to the ice. Checking of any sort is not allowed at any level of women’s hockey.

There is no doubt that even if hits are unintentional they can still have serious, long-lasting effects. Jack Jablonski, known as “Jabs” to some, “Jabby” to others and simply Jack to many, is facing a lifetime of repercussions due to a single, unlucky instant while playing a game he loves.

After playing hockey since she was four, Privette may have skated in her last game. Excessive force in hockey cannot be tolerated any longer and steps must be taken to ensure that a resolution to this issue is ahead.

As a sophomore writer, I cannot help but reflect upon the fact that Jablonski is one of my peers. It could have easily been any of my classmates and friends who took this hit, but it wasn’t; it was Jack. Rules must be changed so there is a greater penatly to discourage these potentially life-altering hits than five minutes penalty time behind a glass window.

This is what hockey of our generation looks like. Unless we let it be heard that we, the athletes, spectators, peers, friends and teammates will not tolerate the “it’s part of the game” attitude, nothing will change. It’s time to defend your friends, your sport and your safety, because it’s more than just a game.

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