If there has been one winter sports story which has captivated the nation's attention more than any other, it would belong to the Benilde-St. Margaret's (Minn.) boys hockey team. After B-SM player Jack Jablonski was paralyzed by a hit from behind during a game over the Christmas holidays, the entire Minnesota hockey community rallied around the teen, helped his family raise money toward his recovery and even adjusted existing penalty regulations to try and keep a similar incident from happening again.
After all that, the B-SM squad went back to doing what it does best: Winning on the ice. Eventually, all those victories -- and at least one inspirational playoff appearance by Jablonski himself (which you can see video of below) -- concluded with a state title victory on Saturday, with the the Red Knights knocking off Hill-Murray (Minn.) High, 5-1, to capture the Class 2A state championship. The game was highlighted by B-SM star Grant Besse, who single-handedly provided all of his squad's offense in building and then holding on to a dominant advantage against an overmatched Hill-Murray squad.
You can see highlights of all Besse's goals right here.
Throughout it all, Jablonski and his family watched on from a suite inside the stadium, cheering whenever Besse scored as the paralyzed teen witnessed his teammates author a happy ending to a season-long saga.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, when it was all over, Jablonski made his way down to the team's locker room to celebrate with his victorious friends, sharing a moment that he had envisioned taking part in on the ice.
However, that celebration highlights the one odd, less-than-charitable detail from Jablonski's story: For some reason the Minnesota High School League officials on-site would not let Jablonski on the ice to celebrate with his teammates after the game. Star Tribune columnist Rachel Blount noted that "Jabs" had to wait for his teammates in the locker room instead of on the ice, and made it clear that it was officials from the high school league who kept the sophomore from being able to wheel out onto the ice to take pictures with his victorious teammates moments after their victory.
On Monday, amidst rising scrutiny over why Jablonski hadn't been allowed on the ice, MHSL Executive Director Dave Stead released a statement citing the absence of Jablonski's name on B-SM's official playoff roster as the reason why he didn't receive a champion's medal on site, and blaming the state's lifetime catastrophic injury insurance policy for keeping Jablonski off the ice. B-SM coach Ken Pauly also told the Star Tribune that Jablonski would be receiving a medal from the MHSL in the near future.
In fact, Jablonski had precedent to assume that he would be allowed on the ice: He made his way out to receive a first-place medal after B-SM won the sectional title just days before the state title game. You can see video of him on the ice during that medal presentation below, and he clearly didn't appear to have any issues traversing the ice safely.
In the end, the unintentional snub may not have dampened many moods. Jablonski was still the center of celebrations in the Red Knights' locker room -- Besse told the Star Tribune that when Jablonski entered in his wheelchair, "everyone went nuts" -- and he will always be considered the touchstone of the 2011-12 hockey season, for B-SM, Minnesota and even prep hockey nationwide. He even brought the team's state title trophy home with him after the victory.
The only lingering question is why he wasn't allowed to cement his rightful, inspirational place in the squad during the team's official final photos on the ice, particularly after he had been allowed to just days earlier.
"If you look at it, after the trophies were awarded -- and out of respect to [runner-up] Hill-Murray allow them to leave as a team -- I think it would have been a better plan to get him out there a little bit," Pauly said. "I think that would have been fun. And a lot of people stuck around to see him, and I feel for them."
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