It's the kind of coincidence that can make the hair on your arm stand on end. In one of the more truly unreal coincidences imaginable, a puck bearing the number of a prep hockey player paralyzed over the holidays won a fundraising event in his honor after it was specifically purchased by the family of the player who unwittingly paralyzed the teen.
Even more amazingly, the player who actually put the paralyzing body check on Minnesota teen Jack Jablonski played a key role in the special puck winning the charity fundraiser. Making the emotions from the event more intense is this: The player and Jablonski were friends before the hit that has now connected them inextricably for the rest of their lives, as confirmed to Prep Rally by a family member of the other player.
As first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and then reported by Prep Rally's brotherly hockey blog, Puck Daddy, the Blaine (Minn.) High and Wayzata (Minn.) High hockey programs held a traditional "Chuck-a-Puck" fundraising event during their Saturday game to raise funds for Benilde-St. Margaret's (Minn.) High sophomore Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed by a hit from behind into the boards during a game against Wayzata.
For the uninitiated, Chuck-a-Puck is a fundraising event in which a program sells numbered pucks for a set fee per puck (Saturday's event charged $5 per puck), the in-game announcer tells everyone when to throw their pucks on the ice, and whichever puck lands nearest to the center circle wins a small cut of the overall money donated.
On Saturday, the unnamed family of the Wayzata player who was involved in the Jablonski hit immediately bought puck number 13 -- which Jablonski wore for both the Benilde-St. Margaret's junior varsity and varsity squads -- when it became available as yet another small honorarium to the injured teen. After purchasing the puck, the parent gave the number 13 puck to their son, who tossed it on command.
Sure enough, when the Blaine High coordinator of the event went out to the center circle, puck number 13 was directly over the center circle, beating out more than 100 other pucks in the fundraiser, which earned $1,246 for Jablonski's recovery.
"I walk out there, look down at center ice, the faceoff dot, and a chill ran through me," said Mark Nowicki, who coordinated the event. "Puck Number 13 is right on the dot. Oh, my God, how is this possible?"
The charity winner -- one of a number of different charity fundraisers that have popped up in Minnesota to support the injured player -- was just the latest connection between the Jablonski family and that of the other player involved in the incident, who has remained nameless --as has his family -- to protect his identity. After the event was over, the Wayzata junior varsity player retrieved the number 13 puck so he could bring it to Jablonski when he visits him in the hospital.
Throughout Jablonski's ordeal, the silent victim in the incident has been the other player involved in the hit itself. He has visited Jablonski in the hospital to offer his apologies in person, just as he did to Benilde-St. Margaret's junior varsity coach Chris McGowan immediately after the game in which Jablonski was injured.
"He said he was very apologetic toward Jack," McGowan, who has also spoken to the Wayzata player on the telephone after he had met with Jablonski, told the Star Tribune. "He said Jack heard him and forgave him. Jack wanted him to be OK.
"He told me it was hard for him to see Jack that way. He very honestly said he was struggling."
That struggle is made more difficult by a pre-existing relationship between the Jablonski family and the Wayzata player. In particular, an older brother of the Wayzata player told Prep Rally in an email that Jack Jablonski was a close personal friend of both the Wayzata player, his father and the brother before the incident occurred.
While it may pale in comparison to facing a life trying to deal with paralysis, the horror of being responsible for such a dire change to a friend is certainly nearly as hard to bear. The Star Tribune reported that the player skated at team practices last week, but that he was also given a green light to skip practices whenever he felt he needed to for his own mental health.
Missed practices are surely just the first step in a long recovery process for the other victim in the incident, a teenager who is having to come to grips with emotional trauma and guilt of the highest order at a young and sensitive age.
"He said the ability to speak to Jack was really great for him," Wayzata varsity hockey coach Pat O'Leary told the Star Tribune. "Day to day, a lot of people have been reaching out to him. No one is blaming him for trying to hurt Jack, and we need to make sure he understands that."