Jack Jablonski, 16, was taken off an ambulance after he was transferred from Hennepin County Medical Center to the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis on Monday.
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Following the lead of high school hockey in Minnesota and in reaction to the severe check that paralyzed high schooler Jack Jablonski, the governing body for nearly all youth games played in Minnesota announced Monday that it is ramping up the punishment for certain penalties and calling on a "culture change" among those involved in the sport.
In a midseason move starting Wednesday, penalties for checking from behind and boarding will be five-minute majors with another 10 minutes in the box after the offender's team returns to full strength. The Minnesota Hockey Board of Directors approved the change in a unanimous vote over the weekend at its winter board meeting in St. Louis Park.
Previously, checking from behind called for a two-minute minor and an additional 10 minutes in the penalty box, and boarding was merely a two-minute minor.
The revisions will remain in effect until the end of the current season, when they will come under review by the board of directors. They will cover boys and girls games. The association is comprised of about 160 associations and 40,000 or so players in every corner of the State of Hockey.
Last week, the Minnesota State High School League imposed similarly toughened punishment for those violations along with penalties for head contact. Those changes were also made on an interim basis.
Minnesota Hockey President Dave Margenau said that his organization declined to include head contact, choosing to "concentrate on those areas where the highest risk of injury would occur in context with the boards."
In a letter written Monday to all Minnesota Hockey members, Margenau said these revisions "are only part of what is needed to make hockey as safe as possible. A culture change is required that will no longer encourage dangerous and intimidation play. Parents, coaches, officials, players and administrators need to work together to make that change."
He added that officials must "make these calls and must have the support of the coaches and parents if increasing the consequences for boarding and checking from behind is to have a positive effect."
The move by Minnesota Hockey comes during its first season banning all forms of checking at the peewee level, boys in grades 6 and 7, out of concern for player safety. Checking already had been banned at ages younger than peewees for boys and in girls games at all ages. Boys playing in bantams (eighth and ninth grade) and junior gold (grades 10 through 12) can still check.
Jablonski, a sophomore playing in a junior varsity game for Benilde-St. Margaret's, was checked from behind and sent into the boards during a game against Wayzata on Dec. 30. Doctors have told him that he should not expect to walk again.
His injury has become a rallying point for efforts to make the game safer. On Monday, Jablonski was moved from Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) to Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.
"We'll miss the wonderful doctors, nurses, and staff at HCMC and can't thank them enough for the outstanding care they gave to our son," parents Leslie and Michael Jablonski said in a notice Sunday night on their son's CaringBridge web page.
"We don't know what lies ahead," the Jablonskis added, "but we're optimistic that Jack will accomplish tremendous feats and continue to make progress beyond belief."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482