MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Youth hockey leaders in Minnesota are asking players and coaches to take a safety pledge to prevent the kind of life-changing injuries that have left two prep players in the state paralyzed in as many weeks.
The Minneapolis Storm youth hockey association launched a website Wednesday night encouraging players of all ages across the state and country — even college and NHL players — to sign “Jack’s Pledge.” It’s a commitment to playing safe in tribute to 16-year-old Jack Jablonski, who was checked from behind into the boards Dec. 30.
“I play to win by following the rules. I do not play to win by any other means. I take the body to take the puck. I do not hit to hurt. I do not board. I do not cross-check. I do not check from behind. Ever,” the pledge reads in part.
Coaches are encouraged to take a similar pledge to teach safe play, including keeping players who have committed violent infractions off the ice longer than they’re required to sit in the penalty box.
While Jack’s Pledge is a grass-roots effort without enforcement measures, the Star Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/AdWbwf ) that organizers hope to spark a change in hockey culture, especially among the more than 60,000 youth, high school and adult league players in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Storm will provide helmet stickers reading “Jack Jablonski — In Our Hearts,” for players whose coaches or association leaders register on the site.
The Jablonski family is “driving a mission to change the way that hockey is played by eliminating the violence, especially in the youth game,” association President Paul Larson said.
In addition to the pledges, the association proposes that coaches observe a new informal “Rule 13” by keeping players called for dangerous penalties — including checking from behind, boarding, cross-checking into boards and head contact — out of the game for twice the time required by the penalty.
The proposal also says checking-from-behind penalties should be reported and tracked by associations, and that consequences imposed by the associations should increase dramatically for repeat offenders.
Larson said injuries are rising at the youth level as coaches desiring to win put more emphasis on a physical style of play instead of teaching other hockey skills.
Jablonski, who played for Benilde-St. Margaret’s, remains at Hennepin County Medical Center, where doctors have said he dislocated his spine and suffered several fractures and significant ligament disruptions, making it very unlikely that he would regain the use of his hands or walk again. However, he has since moved both arms more than initially thought possible.
In the same hospital, Jenna Privette, 18, of St. Croix Lutheran High School, lost feeling in her legs when she was checked into the boards from behind Jan. 6 but can move her tingling arms. Her mother, Penny Privette, said her daughter suffered a similar spine injury in 2008 and it took several months to recover, with feeling coming back in stages. She said doctors have likened the injury to a concussion of the spine.
Mike Jablonski, Jack’s father, said his family supports the pledge.
“We want the finesse back in the game,” he said.