It started with another illegal hockey hit in the back, and ended in a brawl Thursday night in southeastern Minnesota that prompted the unusual ejection of 10 players from a game less than a week after a Twin Cities high school student was paralyzed from a similar check.
The mayhem during a boys' game between host Winona and Owatonna started when a Winona player was hit in the back and into the boards behind the Owatonna net late in the second period.
Ryan Grant "went into the boards pretty awkwardly," Eric Lear, the color commentator calling the contest for HBC-TV in Winona, said Friday morning. "And after that, Grant went after'' Matt Ritter, the Owatonna player who checked him from behind.
"They were both on the ice at that point, rolling over and Grant tackled him,'' Lear said. "Everyone [excepted for the goalies] just skated into a mob behind the net. Everyone got into it" for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Winona coach Fran McDevitt said he has no doubt that his player's retaliatory outburst was a direct consequence of the devastating hit last Friday on sophomore Jack Jablonski of Benilde-St. Margaret's in a junior varsity game against Wayzata.
"Being hit in the back [just as Jablonski was] caused that reaction by Ryan," said McDevitt, whose team lost the game 4-3. "He's too good a kid to react that way. Two weeks ago, our guys don't react that way."
McDevitt said the hit "square in the back" was neither malicious nor dirty, "but it was definitely dangerous," given that Grant was facing the boards.
Just as in Jablonski's situation, Grant was hit twice, with the second and harder check sending him into the boards while he was off balance from the first hit.
Before the game at the Bud King Ice Arena, there was a moment of silence observed on Jablonski's behalf, McDevitt said, adding that collection jugs were also put out to help the Benilde skater's family.
Jablonski, 16, remains hospitalized at Hennepin County Medical Center, where doctors informed his family this week that they don't think he will ever walk again. He has sparked a national and global outpouring of support via social media.
'I just retaliated'
In an interview after the game with HBC-TV, Grant said, "It's pretty stupid by that player to think that he could do that. ... Bad play, bad decision on both our parts. ... It didn't really hurt too bad. I mean, it happened. I just retaliated."
Grant, a junior forward, was unscathed from the check, and none of the other nine players in the brawl was hurt. One official cut a finger while trying to pull the players apart.
McDevitt and Owatonna coach Josh Storm both said they talked to their teams at length about Jablonski's injury.
"The beginning of my pregame speech [Thursday] was about hitting from behind," said Storm, in his first year at Owatonna. "I'm kind of sick to my stomach about it today. I couldn't sleep last night."
Storm is encouraging everyone "to step back, remind everybody and get back on board, and eliminate [checking from behind] from high school hockey."
McDevitt said the officials "made the right call" and has no quarrel with officials ejecting the players, a punishment that includes one-game suspensions. Storm agreed and added that one of his players will have to sit out a second game for verbally confronting an official after the game.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482