PREP HOCKEY: Hits from behind leave two MN kids severely injuredWORTHINGTON — In the span of one week two Minnesota high school hockey players went down in games with serious injuries.
WORTHINGTON — In the span of one week two Minnesota high school hockey players went down in games with serious injuries.
Jack Jablonski, a 16-year-old skater for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, was paralyzed in a December 30 game against Wayzata when he was checked from behind into the boards. Doctors are still unsure if Jablonski will ever be able to walk again after suffering severe spinal cord injuries.
Then, on Friday, Jenna Privette, a senior at St. Croix Lutheran in West St. Paul, was rushed to the hospital during a game when she, too, was checked from behind into the boards. Little detail has been released about Privette’s condition, but her parents say she is “satisfactory” and that hopefully the injuries are “healable.”
These two injuries, especially the severity of Jablonski’s, has drawn national attention to the risks associated with youth hockey.
“Anytime you see a kid go into the board head-first, your heart just stops for a second because you worry about all the things that could happen to them,” WHS girls’ head coach Ken Karwoski said. “Hockey is a fast sport and there’s inherent dangers that come with it. Boards are immovable objects and scary things can happen because of them.”
Checking from behind is illegal in boys’ hockey because players can’t see the hit coming and therefore can’t protect themselves, while checking of any kind isn’t allowed in girls’ hockey according to rules of the Minnesota State High School League.
But with the physical nature of the sport, especially in boys’ hockey, if the hit from behind is treated like any other check — where the skater takes no more than two strides to reach the player they’re about to hit — and the play doesn’t result in an injury, it isn’t a guarantee that the referees will penalize the player who distributed the check.
For Trojan boys’ head coach Pat Christopherson, the rules of hockey, especially in regards to checking, need to be better enforced.
“Officials should call penalties by the rules and be more consistent about it,” he said. “Top to bottom a lot of officiating has become subjective. Officials will put the whistle away to achieve a flow, but there’s a lot of stuff that happens during that ‘flow’ that’s illegal. I’ve seen that firsthand here this year. That’s what I would suggest is that we have rules in place in hockey that keep everybody safe if they are enforced as such. It’s been inconsistent at best.”
The Trojan boys’ captains said in their pre-game meetings with the referees — there’s one prior to every game — that the officials bring up the injury to Jablonski and the severity of what can happen if checking from behind occurs.
And the news of Jablonski and Privette’s injury has opened a lot of youth hockey players’ eyes to the dangers of the sport.
“It definitely crosses your mind,” WHS boys’ defenseman Jonah Oberloh said. “Even on the ice it’s just running through your head when someone has the puck and they turn around and you can see their number. It just really hits you. It gets in your head and makes you think before you do anything.
“I’m pretty sure it freaked out everyone around the state of Minnesota and all around the nation. When you see the numbers, just stop. It’s not worth it.”
For now, both WHS coaches have talked to their players about the injuries and have given advice on how to prevent accidents like those from happening again.
For Karwoski, he told his girls that they shouldn’t skate right into the boards and although they want to win the race to the puck they don’t want to run an opponent through the boards while doing so.
It’s a matter of being always aware of what’s going on on the ice.
“You’ve constantly got to be aware,” Karwoski said. “It’s tough but you have to do it constantly. Accidents are going to happen, unfortunately. It’s a fluke that happens every once in awhile in this game. But if you’re aware and everyone’s aware, there are measures you can take to avoid those serious injuries.”