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Changing high school hockey

Hockey community reacts and responds to Jablonski injury

Andrew Graham, Talon Staff Writer

December 30 Jack Jablonski was injured, paralyzed from the waist down. He was hit from behind, a result of an illegal hit by a Wayzata junior varsity player.

The Minnesota State High School League took action quickly, increasing the penalty for these hits, and putting in a new drive to teach safety, and return to skill.

Here are the changes: checking from behind, which used to be a two-minute minor penalty plus a ten minute misconduct penalty, will now be a five minute major penalty, plus a ten minute misconduct penalty.

Contact to the head also now becomes a five minute major penalty, and boarding which is defined as a, “check, cross check or trip,” is now an automatic five minute penalty.

Adjusting to the new rules is a completely different story, and a change to the culture of hits in hockey is something that will not come quickly admitted Associate Director of the Minnesota State High School League Craig Perry, an official whose works specifically works with boys and girls hockey in the state.

“Changing culture, especially in the educational environment takes about three years no question,” said Perry. “You can’t do it over night, you have to have a long term plan that you can sustain through education [on] how we want the game to be played.”

Time is is essential for seeing the results of these rule changes.

“You can’t just ask them to do it, you have to show them” said Perry. “The driving force behind all of this is the safety of our hockey player,” said Perry.

“[The MSHL has] looked at [illegal hits] for the past couple of years,”said Perry. “In light of what happened here in the state with Jack, [the hockey community] said now is the time to really take some action.”

Perry mentioned an outpouring of support to help insure that these penalties become tougher, and the game become safer.

“The intent of checking is to remove the opponent from the puck, not the opponents head from his or her shoulders,” said Perry. “We are holding the student athletes more accountable,” added Perry.

Senior Nick Gobran is a player who is pleased with the league’s action.

“ I thought it was good they actually did something for a change, it’s not the overreaction that everyone thinks,” said Gobran.

Senior hockey captain Michael Fabie believes however, that these changes will be difficult and will take a lot of time for adjusting. Fabie believes to change the culture you have to start young, and its up to the coaches to be the educators.

“The key problem with this issues is that coaches need to teach their kids how to play with their backs turned to the boards, “ said Fabie.

Fabie, like Perry also sited a need for the change in the culture of how hockey is played.

“Players need to watch what they do, coaches need to teach the proper way to hit somebody,” adds Fabie.

Perry broke the rule changes down to a couple of steps that the league took to insure that these changes be embraced by all who play and coach the game.

Step One: Change the penalty structure. Make the penalties much more severe, and much more punishing to the team that commits the offenses.

Step Two: Continue the education of safer play and see how it impacts the play. This is an area which Perry sites he has received positive feedback already from coaches, officials and some players as well.

Step Three: Hold people accountable for their actions. Hold the coaches, the officials and the players liable for their actions on the ice. A culture of accountability needs to continue to develop, as everyone around the sport tries to make the game safer for all.

But more work must still be done, by everyone, to continue to make sure that the game is becoming safer, and that a hit like the one that devastated the hockey community on Dec. 30 will never happen again.

“The rules themselves aren’t enough to completely change the game, that is why we are going with education,” Perry stressed.

It is an encouraging sign that the changes are being embraced by those involved in the hockey community.

“I see the change in the teams and the way they approach it, I see the change in the stands with people understanding that they game is called a certain way,” Perry added.

Change has arrived, but efforts must continue to be made to try to change the culture of high school hockey in Minnesota.

The reality is that hockey is a violent game, and violent hits are going to happen, but legal, conscious hits must now be the norm.

For Perry, his philosophy for change comes down to three words.

“We re-emphasize the way the game should be played, in our attempt to reduce and then remove,” added Perry.

Re-emphasize, reduce and remove. All in attempts to make high school hockey safer for all.

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