by Jason Olson
The first night of play under the new boys’ hockey rules went into effect for the first time Tuesday evening after being released by the high school league Saturday and formally implemented Jan. 16.
The penalties were stiffened for checking from behind, head contact and boarding with recommendations from the league’s Hockey Advisory Committee and officials association representatives in response to Benilde’s Jack Jablonski’s paralyzing injury in late December. he suffered during a JV game.
Each infraction now is an automatic five-minute major penalty at a minium plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty for checking from behind with a game disqualifcation and suspension from the next contest a possibility.
Tuesday night was the first widespread use of the new rules.
Legacy Christian Academy faced St. Paul Highland Park in a non-conference game at Schwan Super Rink in Blaine. The Lions won the game 3-0 to improve to a program-best 7-6 mark with six weeks left in the regular season.
Lions coach Steve Larson, who previously coached at Blaine High School believes something needed to be done to address the number of injuries including concussions, to which he’s lost three or four players during the season. One is still unable to play after sustaining the injury during the holiday break.
“On the whole, they had to get a handle on this,” he said. “Checking from behind is so tough because of the concussions too.”
Each team had one five-minute infraction, first a checking from behind call sent a Legacy player to the box before the Highlanders had to kill off a major for boarding.
Overall, Larson noticed a move away from the physical play along the boards, which he believes is the right call and the players are aware of the situation more so now.
He feels equipment or rink changes aren’t the answer either because players are simply bigger, faster and stronger.
“I wonder how much of this stuff is the result of having the masks on,” he said, raising an interesting point. “Kids don’t feel vulnerable anymore, they get careless and reckless with the hits and don’t have any reprecussions if they hit someone anymore.”
Larson said he grew up playing with the protective wire or clear plastic cage and recalled that element of fear that if you hit someone hard you’d get it right back. “The element of having nothing on your face and you could get hurt and as result you respected your opponent because either one of you could get hurt.
Whatever the final decision is, the ultimate goal remains to have no one else become paralyzed because of the game we all love.
I think the swift move by the state’s top hockey officials is a tremendous step in eliminating those bad situations. The next step comes in changing the culture from one focused on big hits and physical play back to one focused on scoring goals and winning games.