MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – More than two weeks after a hockey hit paralyzed Jack Jablonski, the Minnesota State High School League announced major changes on Monday to the penalty structure of high school hockey, effective immediately.
Players that deliver a hit from behind, like the one that sidelined Jack Jablonski, will now automatically be assessed a five minute major penalty. Before, referees had the option of assessing a two minute minor penalty.
Officials with the MSHSL said they hope the changes will make the game safer.
It’s the fastest change to high school hockey rules ever implemented. St. Louis Park High School Coach Shjon Podein said the game will be safer.
“Talking as a coach and as a father you love seeing changes that let the talent and the skill of the game play and more importantly keep our kids safe,” said Podein, a former NHL player.
Checking from behind, boarding and contact to the head are mandatory five minutes major penalties. Referees used to have the option of giving a shorter two-minute penalty.
Like before, officials can eject the offending player from the game, which disqualifies him for the next game as well. When the penalty is called, the player has to sit in the penalty box and his team will be one player short, for the full five minutes. That’s regardless of how many goals the team with the advantage scores.
In a normal two minute minor penalty, the offending team gets that player back if the team with the man advantage scores.
Tyler Brodersen, a senior captain on the St. Louis Park boys hockey team, knows Jack Jablonski and witnessed the hit that paralyzed him. He said the changes will have a dramatic impact.
“I think there are going to be a lot more penalties called and that will really change the flow of the game and it will change the flow, but at the same time that will be good because it will cut donw on the dangerous hits,” said Broderson.
“We are trying to change the game and it starts with education,” said Craig Perry, an associate director with the MSHSL.
The state high school league now has a new mandatory online tutorial on the changes for coaches. A player training video is currently being developed.
Referees have been told to ignore fans and penalize coaches that object when they make the new, tougher calls.
“If the coaches complain, we have instructed our officials to call a bench minor on the coach and if that continues they can obviously eject the coach,” said Kevin Merkle, an associate director with the MSHSL.
The change is an experiment that got the green light from the National Federation of State High School Associations. That national group could adopt the Minnesota changes nationwide in time for next year’s hockey season.