Minn. youth hockey set to reverse course on stiff penalties for illegal hits

Less than six months after Benilde-St. Margaret's (Minn.) High's Jack Jablonski was paralyzed -- he's since been able to move his leg and finger -- following a check from behind into the boards that forced Minnesota Hockey's board of directors to issue stricter penalties for illegal hits, the rules could be changing once again.

As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, the board is now considering dropping the "tougher penalty structure, which added more minutes to penalties against players and teams, and go back to the previous one in which referees had the discretion to elevate the level of punishment."

Following Jablonski's injury, Minnesota Hockey followed the Minnesota State High School League's lead by increasing the number of penalty minutes for a check from behind and boarding to five minutes against the team and 10 minutes against the player.

While the rule change has cut down on a number of illegal hits within the state, the new rule has forced players to spend an extended period of time off the ice during a game -- something Minnesota Hockey feels is hurting a player's ability to learn how to "properly play the game."

A committee has already voted 5-1 to restore the old rules that would see a team get a two-minute team penalty; the referee would then be able to decide if the offender should face more time off the ice.

"We weren't in agreement with the changes from the beginning,'' said Eric Olson, a safety committee member, told the Star Tribune. "We felt there was a better way to handle it but we were outvoted."

Even though Minnesota Hockey and Minnesota State High School League don't have to agree on rules, it's clear from Minnesota Hockey's recent ruling that there was pressure on it to conform, at least for a couple of months.

But with Jablonski improving and the issue no longer a hot-button topic, it appears as if Minnesota Hockey is ready to go back to the way things were.

"The rule book is fine as long as it's enforced," Jack Jablonski's father, Mike, told the Star Tribune. "We're not trying to change the game, we're trying to change the behavior.''

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