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Dangerous check sparks brawl in Winona

By Paul Walsh, Star Tribune, 01/06/12, 10:17AM CST


Hit similar to one that paralyzed Benilde-St. Margaret's Jack Jablonski sparked fight

A brawl broke out after a dangerous check from behind Thursday night during a high school hockey game between Winona and visitor Owatonna.



A check similar to the one that permanently paralyzed a Twin Cities high school hockey player last week ignited an all-out brawl during a game Thursday night in southern Minnesota, prompting 10 players to be ejected from the game.

The mayhem during the boys varsity game between host Winona and Owatonna started when Owatonna's Matt Ritter hit Winona's Ryan Grant in the back and into the boards behind the Owatonna net late in the second period.

Grant "went into the boards pretty awkwardly," Eric Lear, the color commentator calling the contest for HBC-TV in Winona, said Friday morning. "And after that, Grant went after [Ritter]. They were both on the ice at that point, rolling over and Grant tackled him.

"Everyone [excepted for the goalies] just skated into a mob behind the net. Everyone got into it" for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Winona coach Fran McDevitt has no doubt Thursday night's outburst during his team's 4-3 defeat was a direct consequence of the devastating hit last Friday on sophomore Jack Jablonski of Benilde-St. Margaret's in a junior varsity game against Wayzata.

"Being hit in the back [just as Jablonski was] caused that reaction by Ryan," McDevitt said. "He's too good a kid to react that way."

McDevitt said the hit "square in the back" was neither malicious nor dirty, "but it was definitely dangerous," given that Grant was facing the boards.

In an interview with the Owatonna People's Press after the Big Nine Conference game, Owatonna coach Josh Storm said he has no problem with the checking-from-behind call against his senior forward, but "then one of their guys just went nuts and started punching people. Our guys got in there and started grabbing him to stop him, and the ref just kicked everybody out."

Grant, a junior forward, was unscathed from the check, and none of the other nine players in the brawl was hurt. One official cut a finger while trying to pull the players apart.

There was a moment of silence observed on Jablonski's behalf before the game at the Bud King Ice Arena, McDevitt said, adding that collection jugs were also put out to help the Benilde skater's family.

"We've talked to our guys about it at length," McDevitt said. "A lot of our guys have been talking about what happened in the Cities last week."

McDevitt said he has no quarrel with officials ejecting the players, a punishment that includes one-game suspensions.

"They made the right call," he said. "All 10 players were involved. You couldn't tell who was throwing punches."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482



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