Jack Jablonski Rule – Stiffer Penalties for High School Hockey

High school hockey player Jack Jablonski and the severe injury he suffered on December 30th, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down*, has led the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) to change some rules for High School Hockey to continue “efforts to reduce and remove dangerous contact that has led to severe injuries to players.”

*There’s been news of Jack Jablonski moving his arms, according to a quote from his mom, which is great news for Jabs, the Jablonski family and the whole hockey community. “Jack was able to move his arms,” she said. “According to where the spinal cord was severed, that really isn’t possible.” Let’s pray the good news keeps coming.

The MSHSL has changed the rules* in high school hockey for checking from behind, boarding and contact to the head to being automatic 5-minute major penalties instead of leaving the decision of a minor or major penalty to the discretion of the officials. Checking from behind will still include a 10-minute misconduct. The officials can include a game disqualification if they deem a hit to be “flagrant or causes the player to crash headfirst into the boards or goal frame” for a checking from behind penalty, “causes the player to crash headfirst into the boards” for a boarding penalty or “if warranted” for a contact to the head penalty. A game disqualification means a player can’t come back in the current game or play in the next game.

*The official announcement on the Minnesota State High School League site, mshsl.org,  states the rule changes are “on an experimental basis for the remainder of the current hockey seasons.” That does leave open the possibility of modifications to these rule changes but that seems doubtful.

The Minnesota State High School League had a regularly scheduled meeting on January 10th that was planned back in June 2011 and changing the rules for checking from behind and boarding were already on the table so this might not seem like a knee-jerk reaction to the Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette injuries.

It is a knee-jerk reaction because they are changing a rule during the season which causes problems with the players not having the time to practice or work on their skills of throwing a check, avoiding a check and taking a check. Most, if not all teams, are already past practicing those skills. Watching a 10-minute video is probably not the best way to show kids what they are doing wrong and how to fix it.

These rules can dramatically change any game because of an accidental hit just like the one that caused Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette to be injured. Would those hits have happened if the penalties were already as stiff as they are now making them? We have no way of knowing for sure but another accidental hit could happen with the stiffer penalties and end up with the same or a worse result. That’s why they are called accidents.

A 5-minute major penalty can turn a close game into a blowout and then cause both teams to start taking cheap shots at each other, increasing the chance of injury. We’re talking about kids, who are not completely responsible with their actions to begin with and don’t yet know how to control their emotions when they screw up and make mistakes. That’s how they learn to be better at anything.* They watch the NHL and college hockey. They see what goes on in those games and they want to do the same thing. If their favorite player is a very physical player, odds are they will try to play that way even if they don’t know how to play that way.

*Failure is how we succeed in life. How often do we succeed the first time we try anything? Even if you do succeed right away, how do you get better until you fail or do something wrong or lose? Unfortunately, sometimes a tragic accident and/or injury accompanies that failure.

Making penalties bigger for physical play doesn’t take it away either. There has to be checking in high school hockey and since there is, there will be times where a hit will be dangerous. Now you will have players scared to throw a check and playing cautious because they don’t want to put their team in the position of having to kill a major penalty. Playing cautious is not a good way to play any game, especially the game of hockey with the size of the players and how fast the game is now played at the high school level. You have to know what you’re going to do when something happens and do it quickly. You don’t have a lot of time to think.

Will this stop kids from playing the game of hockey? Does it take the fun out of the game? If a third-line player, that doesn’t play very often, is playing hard and aggressive to impress the coach and their teammates, gets a major penalty and is thrown out for that game and the next game for hitting an opponent and it was a marginal call that gives the other team a chance to score as many goals as they can in 5 minutes, are they going to want to keep playing hockey? Are their teammates going to blame them for losing the game because of it? That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid playing a game.

How about the referees? Will they call these penalties every time knowing they will put a team down a man for 5-minutes and change the whole game? Will they try to call a bad check or contact to the head a roughing penalty especially if it appeared to be accidental? Believe it or not, referees don’t want to change the game with their calls and now it’s out of their hands (or raised arms, I guess.) They don’t have a choice so they will look like the bad guy more than ever before.

So the Minnesota State High School League changed these rules to try to increase the safety in the game of hockey. I commend the MSHSL for doing that but there has to be a better way. Find a way to fix this problem and introduce it in the offseason when there’s time for instruction and practice for implementation of new rules.

Say your prayers for Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette and make donations to the Jack Jablonski fund at Jabby13.com.

Take the pledge to play safer hockey at JacksPledge.com.

What do you think of these new rules by the MSHSL? Is it good for high school hockey? Is this a knee-jerk reaction to recent severe injuries of Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette? Should they have discussed it more and waited until the season was over?

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Check back tomorrow on how the culture of hockey needs to be changed.

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