Spend time at any hockey rink in Minnesota, and it's quickly apparent that beyond hockey moms and dads there is a broader hockey family that supports players at all levels of Minnesota's official state sport. While retaining its Midwestern roots, this community has gone global, with local players ascending to the collegiate, Olympic and NHL levels.
This extended hockey family -- as well as this page and the rest of Minnesota -- has been saddened by the news of Jack Jablonski, the 16-year-old Benilde-St. Margaret's student-athlete injured in a junior varsity game last week. On Wednesday, his family announced on its CaringBridge website that Jablonski "would not be able to walk or skate again" due to spinal cord injuries.
The outpouring of support for Jablonski and his family is a testament to how tight-knit the hockey community is in Minnesota and beyond. Their continued support will be needed as Jablonski faces the challenges ahead, and it should be extended to the Wayzata player who hit Jablonski from behind with a check that has been described as neither severe nor malicious.
The organizing bodies responsible for youth hockey -- Minnesota Hockey, USA Hockey and the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) -- have reacted appropriately, not only to Jablonski's injury, but also to the long-term issue of improving safety in a sport that by its very nature is a fast, physical game.
In a memo to coaches, officials and players this week, the MSHSL stated that "this situation reminds all of us in the hockey community to renew our efforts to emphasize the elimination of hitting from behind in hockey and to emphasize proper contact techniques."
The MSHSL, Minnesota Hockey and USA Hockey have long sought to improve safety through improved equipment, coaching and rule changes. As they assess the impact of those efforts, more comprehensive data on hockey injuries is needed, according to Dr. Michael J. Stuart, a vice chair of orthopedic surgery and codirector of the Sports Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic, as well as the chief medical officer for USA Hockey.
Stuart is also a hockey dad with an unusual understanding of the sport: His daughter played hockey at Boston College, and three sons have had careers playing in the National Hockey League.
"Unfortunately, the United States and the state of Minnesota do not have a central registry of sports injuries," Stuart said. "Other countries with national health care have a better handle on these injuries, because they have records that can be accessed."
Stuart said that Mayo and USA Hockey have developed a catastrophic-injury registry but that more data is needed. "It's a very difficult task to come up with very good data which can be used to make decisions on rule changes that affect everyone," he said. "It would be wonderful if we had that opportunity."
In fact, all youth, college and professional sports would be well-served by better injury information and research.
In the wake of Jack Jablonski's injury, the hockey community in Minnesota can lead the way by calling for development of a comprehensive injury database that can help inform efforts to enhance player safety.