A safer state of hockey

  • Article by: SCOTT GILLESPIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2012 - 8:20 PM

Jack Jablonski

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The iconic Minnesota boys’ hockey tournament started Wednesday morning in St. Paul, and there’s a good chance it will be a safer event than it would have been before Jack Jablonski’s life-changing injury late last year.
That turn of events should be cause for celebration in the state of hockey. Instead, the dramatic impact of the rule changes enacted just two weeks after Jablonski suffered his devastating spinal cord injuries after being checked into the boards is causing some grumbling among hockey purists.
To its credit, the Minnesota State High School League reacted quickly and, as the Star Tribune’s David La Vaque reported Wednesday, the automatic five-minute major penalties for checking from behind, boarding and head contact have altered the game – for the better.
Players and referees are still adjusting to the changes, but there’s clearly been less full-speed hitting along the boards. Did the rule changes go too far? Some in the hockey community believe so, and they’re hoping more physical play will return next season.
Tweaking or clarifying the rules might be in order before next season, but only if the goal of reducing serious injuries isn’t lost in the process. The high school league owes no one an apology for putting player safety first.
And officials should be applauded for taking a leadership role in lobbying the National Federation of State High School Associations to make automatic major penalties the norm nationwide.
Serious prep hockey injuries are less likely in Minnesota today -- thanks to the rule changes and overall emphasis on safer play -- and the high school league should resist pressure to take a step back.

Scott Gillespie is the Star Tribune's editorial page editor.

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