The name “Jablonski” is a permanent fixture for Benilde-St. Margaret’s boys hockey games at The Rec Center in St. Louis Park. Jack Jablonski’s name and jersey number 13 hang from the ceiling along with other retired numbers.
Jack, as Minnesota hockey fans know, was a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret’s when he was severely injured during a junior varsity hockey game in late December 2011. Now a student at the University of Southern California, Jack is keeping an eye on the Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights this season for family reasons.
His only sibling, Max, is a senior captain who has brought the family name back to the ice. Seeing “Jablonski” on a jersey was a special moment for Red Knights fans Tuesday night as the team opened the season against St. Michael-Albertville.
“I texted him this morning and he texted back,” Max said after the game. “He wished me good luck. He’s excited for me and he’s proud of where I’ve gotten, and I’m proud of what he’s done.”
Max, who was a seventh-grader when Jack’s injury occurred, has worked hard on the ice. This is his first season on the varsity, where he centered the third line during the Red Knights’ 4-1 loss to St. Michael-Albertville. The score was 2-1 with one minute to play in the third period before St. Michael-Albertville scored two empty-net goals. Max took one shot and won five of 13 faceoffs.
“I’ve been working for this for many years,” he said. “It’s obviously nerve-wracking but coming in as a senior and a captain, I felt like I wasn’t out of place. I felt like I did well and I was excited.”
For people who have seen how hard Jack, who uses a wheelchair, has worked in therapy and rehab in regaining some of his physical abilities, it is no surprise to hear Red Knights coach Ken Pauly use words like “grit” and “heart” to describe Max.
“He’s a heady player,” Pauly said. “Guys like to play with him because he’ll give them the puck. He’s not a quitter. He wants to be out there. That’s something that’s going to be very important for us this year. We know that we’re going to have some struggles and having someone like him leading us should help us with that.”
Benilde-St. Margaret’s was one of the top teams in Class 2A last season, finishing with a record of 25-1-1. Seventeen of last year’s 21 varsity players are now gone, however. That kind of challenge is just fine with the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Max Jablonski (pictured).
“Tonight was tough,” he said. “You never want to fall in the season opener. But we knew there was going to be a lot of growing this season. Although tonight we lost, there were some good things; we played pretty even, we just couldn’t score. So we have a lot of growing to do and I think we’ll be able to use this to take a step in the right direction.
“There’s a team goal of moving on and getting farther than we did last year and hopefully going to state. Which right now is a little tough to say. It’s definitely early and it doesn’t matter what we’re doing now, it matters what we’re doing in February and March.”
Max said his big brother’s injury never caused him to consider walking away from hockey.
“Definitely it was hard to watch when that happened,” Max said. “It made you question, ‘That could be me.’ But I love the game and he loves the game, and it wasn’t like I was going to step away from it. I just try playing for him.”
Pauly said the Jablonskis have never wavered on their love of hockey.
“Through all this they’ve continued to embrace the game, where I think some people might be bitter and blame the game. They’ve continued to embrace the game.”
Until Jack left for college in California, Max was at his side. Whether Jack was working with therapists or making public appearances on behalf of the Jack Jablobski BEL13VE in Miracles Foundation (a charitable organization created to support spinal cord injury recovery: http://www.bel13vefoundation.org
), Max was almost always there.
“It’s very motivational,” Max said. “How difficult his injury was to handle and his hockey career being ended so early and him losing his ability to walk, it was just absolutely devastating. And to see the way he was able to not only come back from that, but come back with a smile on his face. Right when he got out of the hospital he wanted to go to rehab right away and start working. I’m very proud of where’s gone and what he’s been able to do since his injury.”
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