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New rules may change way prep hockey is played

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What happened to Jack Jablonski of Benilde St. Margaret’s is every parent’s nightmare.

I can’t imagine many things, other than cancer, that would be harsher on a parent than seeing your child crumpled up on a hockey rink, and eventually confined to a hospital bed, unable to move.

Jablonski was checked from behind in a junior varsity game Dec. 30 and is paralyzed. About the only positive that could possibly come out of his incident is that awareness has been raised to the point that hopefully another player will be spared an identical fate.

The Minnesota State High School League raised awareness Saturday when it strengthened the penalties for checking from behind, boarding and contact with the head. What used to be a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct has been elevated to a 5-minute major, plus a 10-minute misconduct.

In addition, the offending player’s team must play short-handed for the full five minutes. And, the disqualified player cannot re-enter the game in which the hit occurred and must miss the next game.

The changes went into effect after Saturday’s games. Three area coaches, and one Brainerd Warriors player, offered their reactions to the changes.

Warriors coach Jim Archibald believes organizations like Brainerd Amateur Hockey Association have to be more proactive in teaching checking.

“As an association, maybe we need to spend time doing some hitting clinics on how to give a check and how to take a check,” he said. “The way it is now, there’s no checking until you go into Bantam hockey. You take a 13- to 14-year-old kid and now, all of a sudden, you throw him on the ice and say, ‘Hey. It’s all right to go out and hit people.’ Obviously, they’ve never been taught the proper way to give a check or how to take a check.”

Archibald doesn’t think the rules will change the way coaches coach.

“You always tell your guys if you can see their numbers, or you can see the name on the back, you have to back off," he said. “Unfortunately, with the speed of the game, sometimes when a player is traveling in to make the check the opponent sometimes turns their back. That goes back to teaching kids how to take a proper check.

“It’s to a point where something needs to be done. Again, what is the right answer right now? I’m not positive on that.”

Archibald believes increasing the length of the penalties is a positive.

“It takes the discretion out of it,” he said. “They’ve left it in the hands of the officials. Unfortunately, it depends on who’s officiating the game, and how they see it. Now, there’s no question. If the penalty is a hit from behind, boarding or contact to the head, it’s automatically five minutes.”

Warriors senior forward Mitch McLain thinks the changes may make the game cleaner.

“Definitely, everyone’s going to be a little concerned about going in a guy that has his back turned to you,” he said, “but as a player you’re going to play hard, give 100 percent all the time, you’re going 100 miles an hour. Things happen sometimes.

“I think the biggest thing is interpretation. The consistency’s got to be there. You’re going to have different officials every night. That will be the biggest change for everyone.”

McLain isn’t sure if the game will become less physical if the penalties are harsher.

“It probably will be a little less chippy, that might be the best way to put it, but I don’t think it’s going to be less physical,” he said. “There’s probably going to be more skilled hockey played. There won’t be as much head-hunting.

“People are going to have to learn to play the right way, make clean checks. You might see more bumps instead of taking runs at people.”

Northern Lakes Lightning coach Shawn Chambers wouldn’t mind having the changes announced on the public address system before games to educate fans as to what will now happen when checking from behind, boarding or a hit to the head is called.

He said fans often “go nuts” when they see a big hit but that way of thinking must change.

Chambers said he might email parents of his players that they should be careful about which checks they cheer for.

“It’s almost like we have to teach fans what’s going to happen,” he said.

Chambers also believes the new rules are going to put the onus on officials.

“If the refs called every check to the head or whatever, from start to finish, it wouldn’t be in the game,” he said. “You hate to put it all on the refs but they’re the ones enforcing the game. I think this puts a lot of pressure on refs.”

Chambers said he’s “all in favor” of taking as much danger out of the game as possible.

“Concussions are huge right now,” he said. “Unfortunately, it takes something like this to happen to get a reaction from everybody.”