As national hockey leaders prepared to meet, the parents of a paralyzed player called for stricter rules enforcement.
The family of Jack Jablonski called Thursday for immediate changes to make youth hockey safer through stricter enforcement of rules for body checking and the boarding penalty.
"Jack said this morning, 'Mom, it's not about the hitting, it's the way we hit,'" Leslie Jablonski said. "We need to teach people how to hit properly. We're not trying to take that out of the game. There are ways to do it safely."
The announcement came at a press conference at Hennepin County Medical Center, where Jablonski, a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School, is paralyzed from being checked head-first into the boards during a game on Dec. 30.
A press release cited a doubling of hospital visits in the last decade due to hockey violence. An accompanying website noted that leaders of USA Hockey, the national governing body for most youth and adult hockey, are meeting Saturday in Florida.
Jablonski's parents, Leslie and Mike, were accompanied by his younger brother Max, well-known Minnesota hockey figure Lou Nanne, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Benilde-St. Margaret's boys' hockey coach Ken Pauly.
"There are two teens lying upstairs that can't move and we don't want this to ever happen to anyone else again," Leslie Jablonski said in reference to her son and Jenna Privette of St. Croix Lutheran, another hockey player injured in a game last week. "It shouldn't have happened. Shame on us, we've all seen how this sport has gone from skill to danger and violence. Now it's time to do something."
Doctors have said Jablonski dislocated his spine and suffered several fractures.
The Jablonskis stressed they are not out to eliminate checking from hockey but to create awareness of proper technique and calling appropriate penalties for contact beyond what's permitted in the rule book.
Boarding, according to National Hockey League rules, involves "any player or goalkeeper who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently."
USA Hockey and its state affiliate, Minnesota Hockey, recommended Sunday that coaches, officials and players take measures such as reminding each other of the dangers of checking from behind before games and practices and reviewing correct body contact and checking techniques.
The Minnesota State High School League issued a similar memo last week.
A Minneapolis hockey organization has launched a website encouraging players from 4-year-olds to high school stars and older to sign a pledge in Jablonski's name to skate more safely. It called on coaches to voluntarily sit players who commit violent infractions.