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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

Hockey safety promoted in the wake of serious accidents

by // February 10th, 2012

Hockey injuries have drawn attention in Minnesota as two hockey players, Jack Jablonski from Benilde-St. Margaret and Jenna Privette from St. Croix Lutheran, have sustained serious injuries. The injuries have not only drawn attention to disabling sports injuries, they have also prompted efforts to make sports safer and to educate athletes about sports injuries.

Courage Center has helped provide education and rehabilitation services for people who have sustained catastrophic injuries. The Wayzata Boys Bantam B12 hockey team visited Courage Center on Jan. 27, to learn more. Following a tour, the boys, their coaches and parents spent time with Courage Center’s current and former clients, John Kujda and his son Jonah, Joe Stone, Joey Carlson and Shawn Dean, discussing life after a spinal cord injury.

Jablonski, 16, a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, sustained spinal cord injuries on December 30 when he was checked from behind in a junior varsity hockey game against Wayzata and hit the boards head first. Privette, 18, of Lakeville, a senior at St. Croix Lutheran High in West St. Paul, was injured in a hockey game about a week later, on January 6. Privette played on the Minnehaha Saints, a team made up of players from St. Croix Lutheran, Minnehaha Academy of Minneapolis and St. Agnes of St. Paul. They were playing the Blades, a team from St. Paul public high schools.

Both young people were hospitalized at Hennepin County Medical Center before transferring for rehabilitation. While Privette has had an MRI showing no damage to her bones or spinal cord, Jablonksi’s injuries are more severe. Media reports, the medical professionals have indicated he isn’t expected to walk again, although the determined young man has vowed to walk and skate again. Checking from behind was already illegal in Minnesota boys prep hockey before Jablonski’s injury. Players don’t see the hit coming and can’t protect themselves, while checking of any kind is not allowed in girls’ hockey, under Minnesota State High School League Rules.

Privette’s injury is more controversial. She and family members insist she was hit from behind; others at the game said she appeared to have just fallen. A report in the publication Let’s Play Hockey indicates that a video shows her being hit from behind.

In January, the Minnesota State High School League approved a recommendation to stiffen several penalties in hockey that become effective immediately. The goal is to continue the league’s efforts to reduce and remove dangerous contact that has led to severe injuries to players. Recommendation came from staff, the League’s Hockey Advisory Committee (girls’ and boys’ coaches), and officials association representatives. The penalties for these infractions of the rules have been significantly increased in an effort to thwart players from making dangerous hits on the ice. Checking from behind, boarding (defined as a “check, cross-check, elbow, charging or tripping” that sends an opponent “violently into the boards”) and contact to the head all will draw much stiffer penalties. In some cases players who violate rules can not only be ejected from the game where the violation occurs, they must also sit out the following game.

The boys’ and girls’ coaches on a league committee quickly agreed that the best way to address increasing violent hits was to escalate the penalty structure and to get all parties involved to seek to change the culture of the game. The coaches need to accept the stiffer penalties and need to instruct their players the proper and legal ways of making contact with opponents. The officials need to make the calls when the violation is made; they need to be supported by not only the coaches, but also by the players and the fans. The league also is providing an online education module about the changes.

“Hockey is a contact sport, and when it is played correctly it should be a safe game with minimal risks,” said Craig Perry, league associate director who oversees hockey. “This video will allow all participants in the game to see exactly what kind of contact is permitted and what kind of contact is going to draw the new tougher penalties. The players have to be kept as safe as possible, and with a little bit of education and clear thinking while they are on the ice, I firmly believe we can change the culture of the game.”

“There is absolutely no reason why the State of Hockey cannot become the State of Safe Hockey,” he added.

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