Writer’s Block: It’s time to think old school

by Jason Olson

This might come as a radical statement or seem counter productive at a time when we’re trying to make sports and everything else in life as safe as possible.

The tragedy of the play which left Jack Jablonski, the Benlide-St. Margaret’s junior hockey player, paralyzed should have and has ushered in a new wave of rules to prevent a repeat.

One way I see hockey steering away from the violence of unnecessary hits is to begin to remove some of those safety components like a face mask or other safety equipment like shoulder pads.

Respect seems to be a factor that is giving way to the highlight-reel hit or physical play.

The idea and intentions are completely valid for each piece of equipment a player puts on before heading out to a game or practice.

I understand some type of face protection is needed or else we might have a bunch of 1960s-70s-era NHLers with stitches all over their face and in need of a good orthodontist from missing teeth due to pucks and sticks.

On the other hand, it might help curb the idea of invulnerability that seems to be growing more and more common among players that if they hit someone, they will not face injury themselves.

The idea seems to go against all common sense of how to keep players safer, but on second thoughts the idea might be more valid.

If a player doesn’t want to get a stick or puck in the face after completing a check, they might want to sidestep the player and take the puck instead of bowling their opponent over to gain possession.

The game might take a less physical style in favor of returning to the roots of how the game began, scoring by shooting a vulcanized rubber puck between two posts and a crossbar. Now it has become a game, at times, to see who can out hit the other.

Those economically affiliated with the game, like equipment vendors, might not also like the idea of less items to toss in a player’s bag that rivals the size of a small squirt player. Fewer sales equals less money.

The new rule changes implemented by the Minnesota State High School League have caught the attention of everyone affiliated with the game that certain plays cannot and will not be tolerated.

I applaud the decision for stiffening penalties from two-minute minors to five-minute majors and possible game disqualification and suspension from the next contest, but what happens when the next player is paralyzed by a collision at mid-ice.

Fewer players seem to be in those questionable situations that will result in the even larger deficit for the team.

Since Jablonski’s injury on Dec. 30, coaches have said the message reaching their players is to be respectful of opponents and the game. They know the repercussions from not playing in control can reach way beyond three 17-minute periods and have life-long ramifications.

Referees have been put in a difficult position to enforce the heavier penalties which haven’t created unusual scoring chances other than extending the special teams situations.

According to Eric Olson, president of the Minnesota Hockey Officials Association, the new penalties will not prevent injuries. “It’s a dangerous game and even with the new rules being enforced, I think accidents will still happen,” Olson said.

As for an even larger microscope the referees will be under, he said, “[The MSHSL] makes the rules, we enforce them and I think those calls will be made and I don’t expect anybody is going to complain about them.

“It’s a very intense game… but you have to develop a respect for a player, which is something that is lacking right now. It’s all right to have these rivalries, but when the game is over, they’re still a bunch of 17- and 18-year-old kids.”