Blake Heinrich, Hill-Murray’s top defenseman and demolitions expert, started Tuesday’s game at Eden Prairie with a solid, legal check along the boards. Earlier this season, it would have set the tone for a physical night of hockey.
On Tuesday, it was one of the few booming checks heard within the Eden Prairie Community Center arena — even throughout the state.
“Probably the strongest part of my game is the hitting part, but I for sure toned it down a little bit,” Heinrich said.
He’s not alone. Tuesday marked the first action most teams statewide saw since the Minnesota State High School League imposed tougher penalties on potentially dangerous hits.
For the remainder of this season, players called for a check from behind, boarding or head contact will get at least a five-minute major penalty. The “major” designation puts the player’s team at greater risk of being scored on because it must play shorthanded for the duration of the penalty.
No. 7 Eden Prairie (10-3-1) beat No. 9 Hill-Murray (9-5) by a 5-3 margin but a check from behind penalty nearly derailed the Eagles’ lead. After his team stormed to a 4-1 lead in a penalty-free first period, towering Eagles defenseman Luke Sudman got called for a check from behind, drawing a 5-minute major and a 10-minute misconduct. Sudman missed almost a third of the game.
“You’re trying to keep the players safe, which is understandable, but in my opinion it’s cutting into the game a little bit,” Sudman said.
Eagles coach Lee Smith, who along with Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner spoke in favor of the tougher penalties, said, “It was a check from behind. It wasn’t malicious but it was the right call.”
Already down a man from a previous penalty, Eden Prairie’s three-man penalty kill group gave up a power-play goal. Hill-Murray added a second power-play goal on Sudman’s penalty and got back in the game trailing 4-3.
Hill-Murray’s Charlie Sampair got called for 5-minute major boarding penalty late in the third period. Otherwise, the game was played fast and physical but in a more subdued fashion along the boards and in front of the net.
Heinrich said the game has been altered in the wake of recent tragedy. Benilde-St. Margaret’s sophomore Jack Jablonski crashed headfirst into the boards after a check from behind in a junior varsity game Dec. 30. Doctors said it’s unlikely Jablonski will regain the use of his legs.
His injury spurred the MSHSL to levy tougher penalties aimed at making players aware of serious injuries they can cause or sustain through reckless physical play.