Jack Jablonski, 16, collapsed on the hockey ring after two opposing high school players slammed him into boards during a hockey game on Friday. The Minneapolis teenager may be paralyzed for life following the serious injury.
The 16-year-old honor student and hockey forward suffered severe bruising to his spinal cord after scoring his first and only goal for his junior varsity team. He remains in critical condition with two fractured vertebrae. His spinal cord was also severed at the neck. He is unable to move his legs, but has slight movement in his hands, right arm and shoulders.
This is a very serious spinal cord injury, said Dr. Tina Slusher, who is caring for Jablonski in Hennepin County Medical Center's intensive-care unit, told the Star Tribune. We are worried because he isn't moving more at this time. You can't say absolutely where we're going to be six weeks, six months down the road, but it is very worrisome.
The lasting impact of his injuries remains unclear until Jablonski's spinal fusion surgery later this week and his subsequent recovery.
It's a parent's worst nightmare. He dropped and didn't move. Right then and there I knew that my son, that there was something seriously wrong. It was a very hard hit, Mike Jablonski told the Star Tribune.
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He's in a lot of pain, but his spirits are excellent. He's going to make it through. He's a fighter. But we've got a long journey ahead of us, Jablonski's father continued.
Jablonski's injuries have provoked outrage and requests that the level of physical contact in youth hockey games be reduced.
This is one of the reasons why USA Hockey legislated checking out of peewee hockey, said Lou Nanne, a former NHL player and general manager considered by many to be the dean of Minnesota hockey, told the Star Tribune. For all those people who wonder why, now you know why.''
The severe injuries could have been avoided if USA Hockey banned checking as they have for younger players aged 11 and 12.
While Jablonski's parents do not blame the two Wayzata players who checked their son into the boards, they do criticize the hockey culture that encourages violence that can be dangerous to young bodies.
The checking seems to be a hot issue. This can be avoided. In two seconds, our lives just changed. All of our lives changed, Jablonski's mother, Leslie, told the Star Tribune. We just want to make sure this doesn't happen again. And if they keep playing the game the way it is, there's going to be more attacks in situations like this.
Jablonski is facing a long recovery that many believe could have been avoided if stricter rules were enforced in youth hockey. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that body checking be banned under the age of 15, but in Minnesota it is allowed above the age of 12.
U.S. emergency room visits for ice hockey-related injuries for teens 14 to 19 rose from 2,935 in 1990 to 7,713 in 2006. Although hockey-related injuries can occur from a number of incidents, there has been increased encouragement for young players to be aggressive on the ice.
There's a big difference between hitting and checking, and there is more malicious hitting going on in the last year, said Keith Hendrickson, an amateur scout for the Buffalo Sabres NHL team, told the Star Tribune. Nobody condones it, but all I hear from coaches is, 'Body! Body! Body!'''