Can hockey, the sport I used to love, be saved?

Pond hockey in Hidden Valley Park, NorthfieldIn chatting yesterday with Brenton Balvin, I reminisced a bit about my life as a hockey rink rat from about 5 years old through high school. We had a pond near our house in Eagan and I pretty much lived there all winter.  We built our own warming  house, fully equipped with a pot-bellied stove.  It was classic pick-up hockey, also known as pond or shinny hockey:

There are no formal rules or specific positions, and generally, there are no goaltenders. The goal areas at each end may be marked by nets, or simply by objects, such as blocks of snow, stones, etc. Bodychecking and lifting or “roofing/reefing/raising the puck” (shooting the puck or ball so it rises above the ice) are often forbidden because the players are not wearing protective equipment.

I went to grade school as St. Peter’s Catholic School in Mendota where we had enough hockey players to have intramural leagues.  Raising the puck was allowed, and we had goalies, but bodychecking wasn’t common and I don’t remember any fights.

I went to high school at Nazareth Hall seminary in Aden Hills, MN where we could not only skate on Lake Johanna, but where we had full responsibility for maintaining the ice for two hockey rinks (with lights!).  We had giant hoses for flooding and dozens of shovels for keeping the rinks snow-free. Although our class was small (I graduated in 1967 in a class of 33) we had enough good players to field a team that played some of the other teams in the Central Catholic Conference (St. Agnes, Hill, Benilde, Cretin, St. Thomas, St. Bernard’s, DeLasalle). We finished 4-5 my senior year. I loved it. Again, bodychecking was allowed but it was uncommon, especially along the boards since they were only hip high on the outdoor rinks. I don’t remember any fights.

By the time my three sons were old enough to skate here in Northfield (early 80s), I became unhappy with direction hockey was taking.  Pick-up hockey was losing ground to organized hockey, even for the youngest kids.  Parents were getting up early to haul their kids to the indoor arena and spending their weekends hauling their kids to games and tournaments around the state.  I was disappointed to see how much time and money was required and secretly hoped the boys never got interested in playing.  Thankfully, they didn’t.

Pond hockey in Hidden Valley Park, NorthfieldI quit watching (in person or on TV) pro hockey long ago because of the fighting. (Olympic hockey was an exception.)  The recent four-part NY Times series on Derek Boogard, Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer and the recent incidents of devastating injuries of high schoolers on stand up paddle board from behind have served to reinforce my beliefs that great sport hockey has gone bad.

But then when I consider the youngsters playing pond hockey with the oldsters on the pond by my house a couple weeks ago, I think, Maybe hockey can be saved. How? I have no idea.


  1. Jane Moline said:

    I have the same memories of hockey growing up. We skated on a lake and girls could play when there were not enough to fill the team-even if we wore figure skates. When we moved to Faribault we had the first organized team in that high school–and we were avid fans even if we never won. The team practiced outside to save money and played at Shattuck for games. It was fun.

    We started all three kids skating when they were two–this is Minnesota, after all. The boys had skating lessons and I antiicipated being a hockey parent. But when I saw how much money was needed for equipment and getting up at 5 am for ice time, I knew it was not for us and did not encourage the boys–who luckily did not complain.

    I am disillusioned with the need to make sports about taking out the other guy rather than playing using skill and teamwork. (Hockey is inherently more dangerous than some other sports because you get going so fast and the surface is hard.) We (as a society) have turned it into a life-threatening sport by a win-at-any-cost mentality and what is really parents living vicariously through their children.

    We need to make all sports more about what the kids should be doing and a lot less about parents pushing and directing and INTERFERING.

    I know if I had told my dad he would have to get up at 5 am to get me to practice every morning he would have told me to find another sport–we don’t seem to apply common sense to raising our children.

    I think Hockey should go to NO CHECKING. We will never be able to rein the devoted hockey parents in–but we can change the game.

    I was a big pro-hockey fan in the 80’s when we still had the North Stars–now it is not even fun to watch due to the violence and malicious play. (I have to say the same goes for Pro football–it is not fun anymore with the mash-them-to-a-pulp tackling.)

    Anyway, I think it is another way our scheduling our kids rather than letting them find their own way has messed up a good thing.

    January 8, 2012
  2. Patrick Enders said:

    Pickup pond hockey needs to embrace modern media.

    In Madison, I was on the “Madison pond hockey” mailing list (, on which people would post ice conditions at the various rinks and ponds, and where/when they were planning on skating.

    That way, you always knew where to find a game.

    January 8, 2012
  3. Gabe Meerts said:

    I just moved here but pickup hockey and outdoor skating is something I’m looking forward to for me and my little kids.

    I agree with what you’ve described here and had read the sad Enforcer series in the Times. The other negative about hockey (for me, at least) is that the tv coverage is unwatchable. They zoom the cameras in so much that you see a guy breaking out with a puck and have no idea if it’s a 3 on 2 or a 1 on 2 or a breakaway.

    The positives is that there still is pickup hockey (and roller hockey) and high quality fight-free hockey in international and college hockey. I went to grad school at Colorado College (who I hope to see one of these times when they visit the Gophers) and they filled a huge arena despite being a college the size of the two here because of how many locals enjoyed the game.

    I imagine eliminating fighting from the NHL would be very much like eliminating smoking in bars. Hard to imagine possible and a lot of people upset about it but doable, healthier, and better for everyone in the long run.

    January 8, 2012
  4. Patrick, that is a pretty cool idea. WIsh they had that when I was a kid!

    Growing up I had a small rink in my yard that my dad built for us and my brothers and I skated for hours. As we got older we would drive to different neighborhood rinks for games. Some of my best memories growing up are playing hockey outside. Griff, I loved hearing your stories. Those times you cared for your own rink must have been awesome!

    It is hard to hear the stories of the kids who have been hurt recently, but I’m trying my best not to be too reactionary in my view of the game. There are car accidents everyday where people are hurt, and we have laws to make driving safer, but most people still drive despite the risk involves, and the majority of people make it safely to where they are going. The same is true with hockey (and checking in hockey). Hockey is a very dangerous sport, and checking does contribute to some injuries, but we have to remember thousands of kids play thousands of games without injury.

    I will admit I am not a big fan of North American style, grind and pound hockey. I prefer more of the European style with flow and pass and gracefulness. I played a week of games in Sweden and Norway as a college student (Sean O. maybe I visited the towns you visited?) and I had a blast playing that style. But I still appreciate the physical contact part of the game. Checking has its place in the game. I would potentially change the age when kids start checking, so that there minds and bodies can better understand how to do it safely, but I wouldn’t completely remove it. Checking (and even fighting) deter all kinds of other dangerous behavior that would otherwise occur.

    Even without checking freak accidents would occur in the sport of hockey, and like the rest of life, accidents will happen no matter how much we try to protect people from them.

    January 8, 2012
  5. Jane Moline said:

    Checking adds unneccasary danger to the game. The game is exciting and fun to watch without checking.

    The young woman recently injured was back checked (illedgal in most hockey) in a girls hockey game where checking is not allowed. The player who checked her did not receive a penalty.

    I do not see how brutalizing the game adds to the game, and I have been a hockey fan for years and years. Checking is not necessary to the play.

    If young players are taught how to play without mauling their opponents, the game will still be exciting but brute force will no longer be valued.

    January 9, 2012
  6. Patrick Enders said:

    I played with the AHA adult league in the Cities last night, and the refs were pretty strict with enforcing the no-checking rules – certainly moreso than in games earlier this year.

    I’d like to think that it wasn’t an aberration, and the lower tolerance level will persist. Checking and NHL-style play add nothing good to the sport.

    January 9, 2012
  7. Matthew Rich said:

    With all due respect, those who are suddenly calling hockey unsafe and urging for the elimination of checking appear to lack a deeper understanding and appreciation for the game. As tragic as the Jablonski incident was, those types of incidents are outliers in an otherwise exciting and enjoyable sport. People die in car accidents every single day, yet we still motor on. Plane crashes happen, yet no one thinks twice about hopping on the next Delta across the country. Sure it’s convenient to have a knee jerk reaction when something newsworthy happens, but let’s temper the melodramatics and keep things in perspective.

    Every year the equipment becomes lighter, stronger, and safer for the kids. Players are literally protected head to toe on the ice. Unlike football and soccer, players rarely receive direct blows to the head. In an effort to appease the helicopter parents, youth hockey already recently changed the rules to prevent checking at the pee wee level. Safety should certainly be a concern (esp. when kids are involved), but there comes a point when the game is modified to a point beyond recognition.

    Fighting is an entirely different discussion, but I’ll simply note that any fan who has actually watched the NHL over the past 10 years can attest to the decline in fighting in the game. The stats show that there’s been a 22% reduction in the number of fights during that time, and the number of games with multiple fights has been cut in half. Brian Burke, one of the most respected GMs in the NHL, recently shared his thoughts on the importance of fighting in the game. Most players and coaches I’ve spoken to echo his comments: “If you want a game where guys can cheap-shot people and not face retribution, I’m not sure that’s a healthy evolution. The speed of the game, I love how the game’s evolved in terms of how it’s played. But you’re seeing where there is no accountability.”

    Hockey is on its way back. The game has been much improved since the neutral zone trap and “hook and grab” days. The players are faster, smarter, hard hitting, and better playmakers. The goaltending has also progressed, so team offense has been forced to evolve and incorporate more strategy and teamwork to be effective.

    From a fan perspective, high def tv has greatly improved the fan experience at home. One of the issues from older fans or fans who were new to the game was that it was tough to follow the puck or see how the plays were developing (see comment 4 above), but high def television has virtually eliminated those concerns. Now that this year’s Winter Classic (a must see event in itself) has passed, NBC will start showing marquee games each Saturday. For those fans who are on the fence, those who fell away from the game, or those who might be curious as to the product, I urge you to check out those NBC games on Saturdays. Follow up those games with the playoffs in the spring, and I assure you that your adrenaline will be pumping and you’ll have a new found appreciation for the game. There’s nothing else in the world like the Stanly Cup Playoffs. I’ll save a spot on my couch for you, Griff.

    January 9, 2012
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Strib columnist Rachel Blount: Despite tragedies, hockey reformer finds resistance to change

    Hal Tearse became a hockey coach for the usual reasons: He loves the game, and he loves teaching it to kids. There was one other motive, however. When Tearse sat in the bleachers at youth games, he couldn’t stand listening to otherwise sane people saying ridiculous things.

    As boys’ varsity coach at Providence Academy — and as chairman of the safety committee and coach-in-chief for Minnesota Hockey — he hasn’t found much relief. Tearse routinely hears coaches and parents berating referees for enforcing rules. He sees spectators celebrating crushing hits more than they cheer goals. Last year, when he advocated a USA Hockey proposal to delay checking until age 13, he was met with outrage from a majority determined to preserve the spectacle of 11-year-olds smashing into each other.

    That is why Tearse does not expect swift, meaningful change in the wake of grave injuries to two young players in the span of eight days. It’s easy to drop some cash into a jug, make a get-well poster or wear a number on a patch to honor Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette. It is much harder to commit to a genuine, concerted effort to make the game safer.

    Too many coaches and parents aren’t even interested in enforcing the rules, let alone changing a culture that glorifies checking as a tool of intimidation and aggression.

    January 10, 2012
  9. Matthew Rich said: has a great article on this topic today. Here’s an excerpt I found particularly useful in thinking through these issues: “No one at USA Hockey wants kids playing in bubble wrap. But there’s a right way to check and right way to play, and what we’ve seen in the last week shows that proper instruction has been lacking. Now is the best time to reverse that trend. Teach it properly. Call a penalty whether the player is injured or not. Thankfully, USA Hockey gets it, even if some in Minnesota do not.”

    The point is that the game doesn’t need to change, but those within the sport need to do a better job of enforcing the existing rules and teaching younger players how to hit properly. The game is fine; it’s the players/coaches/officials who need corrective action.

    January 10, 2012
  10. Jane Moline said:

    The young woman with the spinal cord injury was back-checked in a girls hockey game where ALL CHECKING is ILLEGAL. By all descriptions the check was malicious and intended to harm or at least intimidate the other player. I am not some over-protective mom who doesn’t understand hockey. All hockey can be played with NO CHECKING and it does not change the game that much except to make it less brutal. Checking is not required to play hockey–and it does not make hockey more interesting, fun or exciting. It would just be different.

    January 10, 2012
  11. Matthew Rich said:


    I’m not intending this to be a personal discussion at all, but your posts lead me to question your understanding and appreciation for the game. For example, you wrote: “The young woman with the spinal cord injury was back-checked . . .” A player who is back checking in hockey is trailing the play back into the said player’s defensive zone, typically with little to no contact with the offensive player carrying the puck. Back checking simply refers to the act of quickly trying to get back on defense. The young woman with the spinal cord injury was actually hit with a “check from behind,” which is a penalty at every level of hockey, both male and female, including leagues that allow checking. Educating players and coaches about player safety and enforcing the current rules seems like a more appropriate reaction than going with the extreme of removing all physical contact from the game.

    Assuming arguendo that we must act now to make the game “different” under the guise of safety, then let’s at least go the distance:

    1) The blades on skates are incredibly sharp. Those who have been around the game have seen the blades easily cut through skin on players’ arms, legs, and even the neck. With such a safety concern for our children, we must take the game off ice. We’ve all seen kids fall on concrete easily enough, so the only safe place to play is grass or the foam pit at the Northfield Gymnastics Club.
    2) Rubber pucks are no longer viable because they won’t slide on grass and they can bruise skin and even break bones, so we must move hockey to 12 inch (increased size protects the eyes) Styrofoam balls instead.
    3) Sticks, currently made of metal composites, are certainly too dangerous in present form, so we’re required to shift to long cotton tubes filled with feathers.
    4) As for rules, everyone gets their own “puck” because to only have one puck would encourage players to interact and get too close to one another, where injury may occur.
    5) Even if players were to collide, the likelihood of injury will be greatly reduced once we mandate that no players may run or jog. Safety first, after all.
    6) If we’re really acting for the sake of our kids, we must also eliminate the goals and goalies. The concept of scoring must be completely removed because that would imply that one team outperformed the other, which might “injure” a losing player’s self esteem.
    7) Finally, let’s throw a bone to the parents: all games and practices will be held between the hours of 1pm and 3pm. No more moaning and groaning about early morning weekend skates.

    In the new Northfield hockey, all the kids are safe, helicopter parents are satisfied, and every hockey player is a winner.

    This is obviously tongue in cheek, but the point is the same–where do we stop along the slippery slope?

    January 10, 2012
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Matthew, I think that there’s a problematic culture that’s developed in hockey, including youth hockey. From Blount’s column re: hockey coach Hal Tearse:

    Tearse routinely hears coaches and parents berating referees for enforcing rules. He sees spectators celebrating crushing hits more than they cheer goals.

    This seems similar to other ‘indifference to safety’ cultures that at times develop in organizations, industries, agencies, etc. leading sometimes to huge disasters.

    January 10, 2012
  13. Curt Benson said:

    This topic reminds me of how there has been an increased awareness of the seriousness of concussions in recent years.

    When my son played football from 2000-2004, I don’t recall that concussions were ever discussed. A player who had his bell rung might sit out a few plays and then get back into the game.

    But in the past few years, parents and students athletes have been educated about concussions at gatherings like the pre season Fall Activities Night. Now athletes are tested to get a record of their baseline brain activity. Then if they do get a concussion, a comparison can be made so it can be determined when it is safe for them to play again. They might sit out a week or more. A physician has to give an OK.

    Shane Kitzman wrote about this is this NFN article:

    January 11, 2012
  14. Jane Moline said:

    Matthew: Your posts claim that anyone criticizing checking in hockey cannot possibly understand the game–even though I and others have listed our street creds including years of hockey playing and support. You suggest that removing checking would be like suggesting they skate with dull blades or use soft pucks–that is insulting and failing to understand the discussion.

    This irrational defense of brutal tactics as necessary to the game is the reason it needs to be eliiminated. The escalation of violence is evident and documented. I want hockey to remain a fun and entertaining way to play team sports–checking is not necessary to the game, as evidenced by the successful leagues that don’t allow checking–to eliminate it in boys hockey is simply going to change the game from a mash-up mentality to skill, finesse and teamwork.

    Yes, you could have the officials be more strict and call more penalties–but eliminating checKing does not change the basic game–it simply requires the players to use more skill. It is not an unreasonable consideration and it does not go to an extreme of safety–it is a simple change that will improve all hockey.

    Checking has turned many parents away from the game as an unneccesary risk that they don’t want their children to shoulder–by eliminating checking, more families will see hockey as the great game it is–and may result in more participation.

    January 11, 2012
  15. I have played the game of hockey all the way through the collegiate level and I have to say that removing checking from hockey fundamentally changes the way the game is played. When I traveled to Europe the teams we played in Sweden and Norway did very little body checking. However, there was markedly more hooking, tripping, and slashing. Without the ability to use their body to slow opposing players they turned to their sticks. And a stick is much easier and more dangerous to use as a weapon.

    I think it is unfair to use the words brutal, malicious, and violent to describe all body checking. Legal checking is not much different that blocking or tackling in football. I played on teams with some guys who would have had no place in hockey except for the fact that they were willing to check, go hard into corners and kick up pucks, and wear down opposing players through legal checking.

    I HATE that those kids got injured playing hockey, but accidents do happen, and even if you remove checking from the game kids will get hit from behind and possibly hurt (just like that poor girl did). As Jane said – the inherent risk and danger of going really fast on cold, hard ice is unavoidable.

    I don’t think participation in hockey will increase with the removal of checking. I took my kids to watch both Northfield girls and boys game, and all my kids said they like watching the boys because “they can check.” A good, clean hit serves the purpose of slowing a player down, inspiring your teammates, and exciting the crowd. Most players enjoy checking and most fans enjoying watching checking.

    As Matthew said, let’s put our energies into teaching the kids to do it correctly, and add additional rules as necessary to protect players (i.e. – better equipment, an extra referee on the ice, more restrictions on parents behavior in the stands, stiffer fines and penalties for illegal behavior). I think the NFL is leading the way right now on how to make a sport safer without fundamentally changing how it is played.

    January 11, 2012
  16. Patrick Enders said:


    You suggest, in post 9 above, that fighting and retribution are necessary to prevent “cheap-shot(s)” and “no accountability.”

    In my own (recreational adult hockey) experience, tit-for-tat retribution between teams over perceived ‘cheap shots’ has too often led to escalating cycles of bad blood and increasing levels of violence, lasting not only over a single game, but building over seasons and even years.

    Do you really think that it is preferential to leave the punishment of ‘cheap shots’ to team enforcers, rather than to a strict application of rules by the leagues and the referees? To me, Brian Burke’s vision of how hockey ‘should be’ might be misguided on the professional level, but it is deeply disturbing when it is applied on the recreational/amateur/juvenile level.

    January 11, 2012
  17. Matthew Rich said:

    Patrick, to be clear, I don’t agree with Burke’s end conclusion. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I think the fighting discussion is entirely different from the one regarding body checking. By posting Burke’s quote, I was only trying to show that there are some in the game, even those who are highly respected, who believe fighting serves a purpose. There may be some truth to the safety valve theory, but I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. If you want to read a great, recent, and brief article on fighting and its history in the game, I would go with the legendary Ken Dryden piece. He argues that the NHL should abandon fighting and head shots, but he also makes it clear that there’s a “fighting spirit” that must remain in the game:

    “Fight” is not “fighting.” Fight is never giving up. Gretzky, Orr, Richard, Lemieux, Lafleur — they were great fighters. They fought with their head, hands, legs, will, and need to be special, and rarely with their fists. The toughest players aren’t those who hit but those who are willing to be hit, to fight their way into open ice, to fight their way to the net, to fight expectation and disappointment to score the game-changing goal. Give up fighting and get more stick-swinging?

    Who were the stick-swingers? A handful of players; almost nobody — and certainly not these players. Fight is the playoffs, the Olympics, and World Cup, where fighting and head shots are rare because the stakes are so high and the distractions so consequential that there’s no place on the ice for goons. “Fight” is fighting spirit. It’s Canadian hockey at its best.

    He concludes:

    The debate about head shots and fighting is not a debate about Canada, Canadian hockey, or the Canadian spirit. It’s about giving up the fighting, but keeping the fight.

    Personally, I could care less about fighting, and I think the game would survive without it. Fighting is only really an issue at the highest levels (and fighting is in decline in the NHL), so I don’t think it’s all that pertinent to our discussion in this thread, which I understand to be more about whether changes need to be made in general for the sake of player safety. From that premise, some have argued that the change that needs to be made is the removal of all physical contact in the game. I disagree with that position.

    As for Jane’s comment (14), I don’t think she has accurately described my comments. I didn’t claim that anyone who criticizes the game must not have a complete knowledge of the game. Instead, I claimed that the use of the incorrect terminology might be construed as evidence of a lack of a thorough understanding of the game and appreciation for its subtleties. I liken my position to that of the crowd who wouldn’t give much credence to the fan who yells “touchdown” after a home run and then makes suggestions as to how to change the rules of baseball in the name of safety. Also, to describe clean, legal, body checking as “brutal tactics” seems a bit hyperbolic. Body checking is merely a means to legally separate a player from the puck. If done within the rules of the game, it doesn’t require any use of brutal or malicious force. When players stray from the rules of the game, they should be penalized.

    As Brenton confirmed in 15, to remove checking from the game fundamentally changes the game of hockey. There are minor tweaks that the leagues can in the name of safety, and I’m all for those. They’ve been working those changes in over the past three decades, and player safety is continued to improve. Removing physical play from hockey is far from a minor tweak. What will be the end result that is achieved? You’ll have a game where players will be penalized for breaking the rules when they hit from behind. What do we have now? A game where players are penalized for breaking the rules when they hit from behind. So what’s accomplished by removing checking? Diluted and dull hockey.

    Griff, as for your comment in 12.1.1, I disagree wholeheartedly with Tearse’s comments about fans and the hockey culture. I’ve played hockey for 25 years, and I’ve spent more than my fair share of early weekend mornings watching games from the stands (I have a younger brother who plays), and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen hockey fans act as rabid, blood thirsty spectators at a Roman coliseum demanding brutal checking and fights. It just doesn’t happen. Fans who truly understand the game appreciate clean, hard fought action on both ends of the ice, which includes legal body checking. They don’t want to see reckless or malicious play, or the injuries that follow. To say that people only watch for the fights or checks is like saying people only watch figure skating for the falls or Nascar for the crashes. It’s cliche, uninformed, or not reflective of reality.

    January 11, 2012
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Matthew, just a reminder. When responding to someone you disagree with, be sure to address them in the first person. You did it correctly with me and Patrick but not for your reply to Jane where you wrote:

    As for Jane’s comment (14), I don’t think she…

    January 11, 2012
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Strib Daddy-o blog: The deja vu of the hockey safety debate …

    Twenty years ago, public health researcher Janny Brust studied the risks and reached a simple conclusion: checking should be banned until players are at least 16. Her research team followed nine Richfield hockey teams (ages 9 to 15) over one season and found that one in three players suffered some type of injury. Sixty percent of the checking-related injuries involved some form of illegal hits or contact, the researchers found. Few of the damaging hits resulted in penalties.

    January 11, 2012
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    Online tonight and likely in tomorrow’s Strib print edition: ‘Jack’s Pledge’ aiming to put hockey risks in check

    In a fresh push to rid youth hockey of illegal hitting, some of the sport’s leaders in Minnesota want players to sign a pledge to skate more safely and coaches to voluntarily sit players who commit violent infractions.

    The call comes as two teenage Minnesota hockey players lie in hospital beds, paralyzed after being hurt on the ice.

    Minneapolis’ youth hockey association, known as the Minneapolis Storm, launched a website Wednesday night encouraging players across the state and country — from 4-year-old mighty mites to high school stars and maybe even college and NHL players — to sign “Jack’s Pledge,” a commitment to playing safe in tribute to 16-year-old Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed Dec. 30 after being checked from behind.

    On the site,, players are asked to sign documents promising: “I play the body to play the puck. I do not hit to hurt. I do not board. I do not cross-check. I do not check from behind. Ever.”

    January 11, 2012
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Strib: Jablonskis urge quick changes to make hockey safer

    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.”

    January 13, 2012
  22. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Strib Hocky Hub: High School League toughens penalties on violent hits

    The Minnesota State High School League will impose tougher penalties for three of hockey’s most dangerous infractions after an illegal hit to a Twin Cities high school player.

    Beginning with games Monday, players called for a check from behind, boarding or head contact will get at least a five-minute major penalty. The “major” designation puts the player’s team at greater risk of being scored on because it must play shorthanded for the duration.

    See also the MSHSL narrated slideshow/powerpoint on changes.

    January 15, 2012
  23. Here’s the thinking and conversation I would like to see.

    Parent to child: There are some sports you can play in school that are definitely dangerous and can leave you unable to walk or talk or do anything for yourself for the rest of your life. It happens to others and it can happen to you. Do you want to play these sports now that you understand the dangers?

    Coach: I swear I will encourage safe play and disallow any player who steps outside the rules. Zero tolerance.
    Aggression will be defined most definitely to allow for
    character building, body building and fun play.

    Child. I feel safe enough to play now but if I find that
    I am being used as a battering ram or to entertain mean spirited people, I will quit in two seconds and find some other way to challenge myself.

    January 20, 2012
  24. Matthew Rich said:

    Bright, I agree with most of your comment, but I would resist shifting to “zero tolerance,” or anything similar. Unless dealing with bright lines and purely objective measures, zero tolerance can create unfair results.

    With both boarding and hitting from behind, a referee is charged with making a subjective determination as to intent and malice. Although two hits from behind may appear identical, the offending players can, and should, be penalized differently by the referee depending on the circumstances of the particular offense (e.g., intent, malice, and injury sustained).

    Those who have played the game have undoubtedly seen a player attempt to make a routine legal check only to have the receiving player turn his body at precisely the last moment, which results in an inadvertent boarding or check from behind. The general consensus is, and current rules provide, that the offending player in that situation should be penalized but to a lesser extent than the player who commits a blatant board or hit from behind, especially where it’s clear that the offending player is playing recklessly or with the intent to injury his opponent. A shift to “zero tolerance” wouldn’t allow for such delineations.

    For those who missed it, the Red Wings and Blackhawks played a great game last Saturday morning, and the broadcast was carried on NBC. The Blackhawks, outplayed in the first two periods, took it to the Wings in the third period before scoring with 51 seconds left to send the game to overtime. The Wings scored the game winner in OT. Only 3 penalties in the whole game. This Sunday two of the league’s best offensive teams, the Penguins and the Capitals, will play on NBC at 11:30am. If you can stomach the “brutal tactics,” check it out.

    January 20, 2012
  25. I like hockey and all sports very much. I was a star basketball player in my day. I don’t remember anyone suffering any major injuries in all my hs and college days.

    I feel certain that coach’s know who does what and when and to whom and for what. Zero tolerance does not mean kicking kids out unfairly. I would leave it to the people who are in there doing to define the limits but limits must be established. These are games and all games have rules. The idea that anything goes for the sake of winning is extreme, outlandish and is not the way to teach our children how to play the game of life. That day should be over by now.

    We don’t want anyone to say anything bad about anyone else to avoid hurting their feelings, we certainly shouldn’t want to allow them to smash into another person intentionally to keep them from getting a puck in a cage. Truly there are other ways to teach determination, endurance, thinking on your feet and other such winning methods besides taking another person’ life away from them. We call that ‘war’ where I come from.

    January 23, 2012
  26. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Strib: Hockey safety goal expanded to youth

    In an unprecedented mid-year change, Minnesota Hockey is toughening the penalties for checking from behind and boarding. The change will affect 40,000 hockey players in the 160 youth hockey associations Minnesota Hockey oversees and follows a similar move last week by the Minnesota State High School League. The league also toughened penalties for head contact…

    Under the Minnesota Hockey changes that begin Wednesday for girls and boys, punishment for checking from behind and boarding will be five-minute major penalties, with another 10 minutes in the box after the offender’s team returns to full strength. Previously, referees calling a checking from behind violation had the option of giving the player a two-minute minor penalty and an additional 10 minutes in the penalty box; boarding was merely a two-minute minor.

    A referee could level a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for only the most serious checks from behind. The Minnesota Hockey Board of Directors approved the change in a unanimous vote over the weekend at its winter board meeting in St. Louis Park. It will remain in effect until the end of the season, when it will be reviewed. Last week’s changes by the Minnesota State High School League also were implemented on an interim basis.

    In a letter written Monday to all Minnesota Hockey members, Minnesota Hockey President Dave Margenau said these revisions “are only part of what is needed to make hockey as safe as possible. A culture change is required that will no longer encourage dangerous and intimidation play. Parents, coaches, officials, players and administrators need to work together to make that change.”

    January 24, 2012
  27. The All Pro Game last Sunday between the AFC and the NFC was so enjoyable. The stess, the anger, the anxiety all gone…well I didn’t watch all of it, as I rarely do watch an entire game, usually just the beginning and the end quarters…and what was left was a bunch of guys having a good time playing.

    I think if these types of games were played, people would find more good ways to defend and score, and there would be far less injuries, and more enjoyment for everyone who appreciates the joy of fair play.

    January 31, 2012

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