Hockey injuries have always been a concern, but recently the level of concern surrounding the dangers of the sport has swelled. On the night of December 30, in what started out as an ordinary JV hockey game in St. Louis Park between Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School and Wayzata High School, tragedy suddenly struck — very, very hard. Benilde sophomore Jack Jablonski was checked from behind by two Wayzata players during the second period. Jablonski’s face “slammed against the boards and his body was straight up and down,” according to Benilde coach Chris McGowan. As a result of the incident, Jablonski suffered a major spinal cord injury, leaving him permanently paralyzed. Some good news is that Jablonski is now able to move both his arms a little, something doctors initially said he would not be able to do. Jablonski and his family are receiving tons of support from various celebrities, and there are numerous fundraisers for the family, including The Jack Jablonski Fund (click here).
One week after the Jablonski tragedy, senior Jenna Privette from St. Croix Lutheran High School in West St. Paul was also hit from behind during a hockey game. She fell face down on the ice and was unable to move. Privette was hospitalized and is listed in satisfactory condition but still unable to move her legs or feet. She has pain and tingling in her arms, and an MRI showed no breaks in her spinal cord.
The injuries to Jablonski and Privette have led to much discussion about the dangers of playing sports, but especially hockey. Some say that youth hockey has become more aggressive in recent years, spurred on by some coaches. Keith Hendrickson, an amateur scout for the Buffalo Sabres NHL team, said (as reported in the Star Tribune), “Nobody condones it, but all I hear from coaches is, ‘Body! Body! Body!”’
The officiating of youth hockey games is also a major concern among many people who watch and play the sport. As Benilde’s head varsity coach Ken Pauly says, “We have the rules against checking from behind. We just have to apply them better.” Obviously, there needs to be stricter rule enforcement, especially on checking from behind, to protect the safety of everyone involved. Click here to read more about the importance of hockey safety.
In a high school hockey game on January 5 between Winona and Owatonna, a Winona player was checked in the back by a Owatonna player, causing a huge altercation between the teams. Winona coach Fran McDevitt says, and I agree, that players on both teams reacted the way they did because of the Jablonski tragedy. All 10 players on the ice were ejected, which almost never happens. These ejections perhaps show that youth hockey officials are beginning to respond appropriately to the Jablonski incident.
The injuries to Jablonski and Privette raise bigger questions: How can we best ensure the safety of youth hockey players? Stricter rule enforcement is an obvious solution. Referees need to be part of this equation. Stricter rule enforcement could also prevent coaches from encouraging their players to play too aggressively.
Ensuring the safety of youth hockey players is very important because, as seen in the cases of Jablonski and Privett and even of Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, whose ongoing health issues may be related to concussions he sustained playing a lot of hockey growing up in Canada, youth hockey injuries can have very serious and long-term consequences. What do you think of youth hockey injuries? What steps should be taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved?
Written by: Sam Graves