Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — When the Benilde-St. Margaret’s boys hockey team takes to the state tournament ice Thursday night, many will be thinking about the violent hit that left a team member paralyzed.
It’s largely because of that check on Jack Jablonski that coaches, players, and officials gathered in St. Paul Thursday to discuss what can be done to make the game safer.
Jack Jablonski’s father, Mike, was among those attending the first “player safety summit” organized by the Herb Brooks Foundation. The goal of Thursday’s panel discussion was not so much to change the game, but rather enhance it with a safer environment.
A lot of ideas came forward, ranging from changing the culture of the game to actual equipment. In fact, Gophers coach Don Lucia said advances in equipment, like a full face mask, has created a “Gladiator mentality.”
It leads to a sense of fearless, with no thoughts of getting hurt. Ice hockey always has and always will be a physical sport. But that doesn’t mean it has to be dangerous or in the case of Jack Jablonski, debilitating.
“No-one should suffer a serious injury playing such a wonderful sport,” said Gov. Mark Dayton.
Recent catastrophic hits at the high school level rocked the hockey world. It’s leaving players, coaches, parents and officials looking for ways to change the culture.
“When did it become okay to blast somebody into the boards,” Lucia said.
It’s a question many in hockey are asking. At the “player safety summit,” respected voices in the game offered ways to create a safer sport.
It included everything from more consistent officiating to re-evaluating the full face mask.
“I’m not sure that’s been a good thing. I think the full face mask has given us the gladiator approach whether diving to block shots to much more protection where you’re not going to get hurt,” Lucia said.
Hockey can have a physical style of play that too many kids emulate watching the pros. But former player turned NHL agent Neil Sheehy said what’s needed is greater emphasis on the finer points of the game.
“The skills of the game are the key to any player going on and playing at higher levels have to have the skills. And if they don’t the toughness won’t get you there,” Lucia said.
Coach Lucia said the players are bigger and faster than 30 years ago, and with better equipment we’ve traded a few stitches and broken teeth for far more serious injuries.
It’s sure to spur a lot of discussion.