Esme’s Blog: The Uphill Climb To Change Hockey Culture

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This weekend the family of Jack Jablonski announced a “grass roots” effort to change the game of hockey to make it safer.

What the Jablonskis, along with Lou Nanne and Benilde-St. Margaret’s Hockey coach Ken Pauly are calling for sounds pretty simple. They want the rules followed. They want the penalty for checking a player into the boards called.

Right now Pauly said it is rarely called. Pauly said it’s a hit that is as dangerous as checking from behind, the blind hit that left Jack Jablonski paralyzed. Nanne said players today are bigger and faster and because of that the impact of hits is much greater than it used to be.

There is no way injuries can be eliminated completely. They can and will happen in any sport, but what the Jablonskis, Nanne and Pauly are calling for is a game that relies on finesse, not violent hits.

It is a noble goal, but it is one that fundamentally calls for a change in the culture of Minnesota hockey.

According to Nanne, Minnesota Hockey was the only state hockey association that fought a proposed ban on checking for 11, 12 and 13-year-olds. Minnesota Hockey wanted those kids to keep on checking, despite the fact this age group has the largest size and weight differential of any age group.

As the parent of a 12-year-old who plays hockey, I am glad to say that Minnesota lost that fight. Checking is now banned for this age group. But that shows what the Jablonskis are up against. A culture, especially in Minnesota, that revels in the rougher, not the finer aspects of the sport.

More from Esme Murphy
  • Fred

    Life is dangerous. Maybe we should take tackling out of football and punching out of boxing. Give me a break. Lou, how much more plastic surgery can you get?

    • Real Talk

      Agreed. There are litterally THOUSANDS of mn kids who play hockey ever day with the current rules. What happened to Jack was tradgic no-doubt. But now comes the standard hind-sight, over reaction by the attention seekers. As if this world didnt have enough causes. Just one more for the cruisaders….ugh, get a job already.

      We could eliminate all highway related crash deaths by making the speed limit 10mph too. It would effectively solve the problem. Think about it….

  • rcam

    I agree intentional hits should be penalized with a major penalty but there is a gray area when a player is about to be hit and turns his back to the hit,sometimes it’s to late for a player to stop. So I think refs should be given alittle lee way.

  • Tim

    I played hockey my whole life and never thought about the dangers of getting hit. The sport today is different. The players are bigger, faster, stronger and hit more often. The rules need to change to keep the players safe. European players come form a different mindset where technique and talent are stressed more than the physical style of play that we see here. I enjoy seeing that kind of hockey more, and I hope that we adopt more of that style soon.

    • Tony Rozycki

      Agree Tim.


    As violence increases in our world that we live, so does the violence in pro sports.

  • gear_daddy

    I played “full check” hockey as a kid, and I still play so-called “no check” hockey as an adult. It’s still a great game without players dishing out punishment on each other constantly. I agree with what Nanne and company are saying. We can can get rid of certain kinds of “legal” checking in hockey and it won’t diminish the game.

    Hockey has this unique thing called “finishing your check”, which basically allows a player to follow through and deliver a check to a player even after that player has played the puck away from them. This is where the abuse of the rules and unnecessary blindside hitting is coming from. We don’t need it, especially at the high school level where over-exuberance and immaturity lets this stuff get out of control.

  • Jlowder

    Modern hockey, especially USA, is a travesty to the sport.
    Hockey is not a contact sport by design. It is about speed and beautiful plays by athletes with quick reflexes and superb hand eye coordination.
    Inferior players need to check because they got beat, or feel they will get beat if they do not check.
    The game of hockey would rise to a new level of playmaking and allow many true great hockey players to participate if body checking were eliminated from all levels of hockey.
    The NHL is a joke with what they allow. What other team sport in the world allows to players to duke it out until one of them hits the ground. This is so sad and long overdue for change.

  • James Mechelke

    I agree with Fred! Leave contact in our sports! Hockey has contact, hits are apart of the game all of us kids have played that game! After all if you take contact out we might as well as call it Figure Skating!

  • Swamp Fox

    You will have a had time changing the Hockey Culture, as you call it, if it isn’t done from the top down. [IE; the Olympics, NHL, etc.] With that said, the hockey culture needs changing from the low end up, also. Parents, referees, and hockey administrators have to change their attitudes in the lower ages about the changing checking rules and enforcing them. Meanwhile, spectators and fans have to change their mindsets too. The hard checking, the fights, and goalie stomping have to be curtailed with the referees doing their jobs diligently but fairly.

    Forty years ago, my first MN winter, in Duluth, I learn the game of broomball in lieu of playing hockey. I thought it was safer. The college I attended had broomball intramurals for those interested. The first time I played regulation broomball I was checked and decked with great gusto. Needless to say, I got my bell rung and had to stop playing then.

    The irony to this “coed” broomball endeavor I was dumped by a 5’6″ 120# [dripping weight] coed who also played hockey. She carried to those rules to broomball with relish. Duluthian broomball.was played with hockey rules where applicable. From that point on, I played by the “MN Rules” such was the culture. Checking was to be bump and run but we all know that a good smash check into the boards is a sight to behold.

    Twenty years passed before I saw the light of sanity in hockey rules. When my in-laws who were part of the hockey culture on all fronts started to espouse a safer sport for kids and all, reason set in. Hockey can be fast charging, hard-played, and fun. The extraneous ignoble board bashing was not for classic good hockey.

    Unfortunately, Jack Jablonski is a wake-up call to all of us to get back to classical hockey and classical rules of safety etcetera. Yes, there will be bumps and checks and missed calls by the referees. However, good hockey players channel those Neanderthal urges and play for the fun and skill of it. When hockey gets to be an extreme pugilistic sport played by gladiatorial contestants then it’s time for change or shutting-off the arena rink lights. It won’t be worth watching the carnage and blood-shed.

    • gear_daddy

      HA HA. I’ve played some broomball in my time as well. Funny thing is that I’ve way more childish behavior and cheap shotting in broomball than I ever saw in hockey. Coed leagues are the worst, because you get this dynamic of husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend where the girls throw cheapshots and whine, thereby causing their husbands/boyfriends to act as enforcers to get retribution. As a hockey player I looked at this and laughed mostly. I stopped playing broomball because of this ridiculousness.

      Anyway, hockey culture hasn’t changed. What has changed is there are bigger and faster players now, and it is simple physics that more people are getting hurt as a result. It’s not about fighting, as that isn’t causing the injuries. It’s about curtailing the elbows to the head and the smashing of people into the boards when they are not even playing the puck.

  • Jeff the Ref


    Until you have played, coached, or have officiated a game, get off your democratic soap box. Oh yea, what is a 10 minute major penalty?

    • DFMOR

      I watched I high school game last year that made me sick and want to pull my kids out of youth hockey. I counted into double digits the late hits where players took runs at other players slamming bodies and heads into the boards clearly past the one or two beats after releasing the puck – never a call. No surprise, the game was delayed to clear a multi-player fight late in the third period — many puches tossed and a ref knocked down – no penalties called. Fortunately the game ended out of control but no players had to be carried off the ice. Until the rules start being enforced – with consistency. Don’t expect the players to play by them.

    • Swamp Fox

      @Jeff the Ref;
      You’re penalizing the messager who wants safer hockey for kids and all. Keep the politics out of it! Why don’t read why she is saying what she is.

      What would Jack Jablonski and his family think of your smug views?

      • Jeff the ref

        The cause is correct, and I support all the efforts, she is just not informed and tries to talk the talk, BTW, explain a 10 minute major to me.

        • Swamp Fox

          @Jeff the ref:
          A 10 minute major is for general misconduct. However, it is not to be confused for deliberately injuring another player, deliberately fighting with a goalie, or deliberately fighting and causing grievous injury. For these penalties, one gets ejected from the game. Does that answer your question?

          • Jeff the Ref

            Point is, there is not a 10 minute Major penalty as Esme told us on Sunday. 10 minute penalty is a misconduct, as you pointed out.

            • Tony Rozycki

              Esme’s right, just clean up the rules & enforce them for our kid’s sakes!

              • Tony Rozycki

                correction – kids’ sake!

  • Tim

    I have seen and heard a lot of people lately talking about banning checking from hockey. Many of these people have never played the game or even watched many, if any, games. I agree with Jeff the Ref in that people like Esme don’t carry much weight with me and many of the true hockey people out there. I am not an outsider of the sport and I love the game. I truly believe that for the good of hockey, we need change.

    I just came from the local outside rink after playing for over three hours with my sons. I saw the best that hockey has to offer us today, people enjoying the sport. There were no violent checks thrown, no attitudes, no problems. What a great day. I wish that all of hockey could get back to that. For the love of the game and for the love of my kids and all kids playing hockey, I hope that the game changes soon.

  • Willey

    I heard a soccer mom say “you can tell which kids play hockey”. Soccer is no longer a finesse sport in Minnesota and the referees are terrible at controlling the game. Kids take a run across the field and blind side other kids. Lots of elbows and other cheap shots. We went through 4 seasons with only 1 yellow card and no red cards. Should have been a lot of them. Its really sad.

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