Controversy and Minnesota prep hockey continue to court one another after a dangerous check in a high school boys game led to a massive brawl between the two schools just days after a fellow Twin Cities area star was left paralyzed by a dangerous yet accidental hit on the ice.
As first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE, among other outlets, an astounding 10 players were ejected from a game between Owatonna (Minn.) High and Winona (Minn.) High after a dangerous check into the boards behind the net sparked a full-out brawl between the two squads. The victim of the in-game check that precipitated the fight felt it was similar to one that left Benilde-St. Margaret's (Minn.) School sophomore Jack Jablonski paralyzed, leading teammates of the victim to spring into action in his defense.
"We're obviously very sorry," Owatonna's hockey coach Josh Storm told KARE. "We're very apologetic about the hit."
Here's how a television color commentator who was covering the contest for Winona TV network HBC-TV described the rapid evolution of the on-ice hullabaloo.
[Winona player] Ryan Grant "went into the boards pretty awkwardly," Eric Lear, the color commentator calling the contest for HBC-TV in Winona, said.
"And after that, Grant went after'' Matt Ritter, the Owatonna player who checked him from behind.
"They were both on the ice at that point, rolling over and Grant tackled him,'' Lear said. "Everyone [except for the goalies] just skated into a mob behind the net. Everyone got into it" for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
The incident led to a shocking 10-player ejection near the close of the second period, with both schools forced to finish the game with shortened benches. Those shortened rosters will carry over to both teams' following games, as Minnesota mandates a one-game suspension for any in-game ejections.
Owatonna eventually emerged with a 4-3 victory, though the focus after the league matchup was squarely on the fight and ejections, which all indicated wouldn't have happened if not for the focus on Jablonski's injury just days earlier.
"It's pretty stupid by that player to think that he could do that," Grant told Winona television network HBC after the game. "Bad play, bad decision on both our parts. ... It didn't really hurt too bad. I mean, it happened. I just retaliated."
Still, the check came from an Owatonna player despite his coach's pregame insistence that his team avoid checking from behind, a factor which points to just how rampant the practice has become in youth hockey.
"The beginning of my pregame speech was about hitting from behind," Storm, who is in his first year at Owatonna, told the Star Tribune. "I'm kind of sick to my stomach about it today. I couldn't sleep last night.
"[Everyone needs] to step back, remind everybody and get back on board, and eliminate [checking from behind] from high school hockey."