Jake Horton, one of the captains of the Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey team, played hard and played safe Tuesday night when the Red Knights had their first game under Minnesota’s new rules. The final score at the St. Louis Park Rec Center was Benilde 8, St. Francis 1, but the number of goals was almost inconsequential to the style of play.
Safer hockey is, hopefully, the new normal in Minnesota.
“It’s especially dear to our team, knowing that one of our players went down with one of those hits,” Horton said. “It’s definitely a lot more in our hearts when we’re out there.”
The senior defenseman was speaking of Jack Jablonski, of course. A few hours after Tuesday’s game ended, an optimistic message from Jack’s family was posted on his Caring Bridge site. The update included these words:
--“We're thrilled that Jack is able to sit up several times a day.”
--“Jack is getting stronger by the day, and that brings him closer to moving on to rehab. We're excited for him to begin the next chapter of his life.”
Benilde home games offer plenty of ways to support Jack and his family. His number 13 has become a familiar sight in rinks across the state. A large table in the arena lobby Tuesday held t-shirts, sweatshirts, mittens, hats, buttons, stickers, wristbands and more, with all proceeds going to the Jablonkis.
The Red Knights have Jack’s 13 sewn onto their jerseys and placed on their helmets. The St. Francis team brought along a poster in support of Jack, signed by players and other students, that was taped to the glass.
A saga that began on Dec. 30, when Jack was injured as he was checked into the boards, now continues with what everyone hopes is a better game. Last weekend the MSHSL instituted stiffer penalties for checking from behind, hits to the head and boarding, and this week’s games are the first tests of the change.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly allowed me inside the locker room during his pregame talk. (Video is posted on the MSHSL Facebook page.) The coach was direct and clear as he spoke.
“It would be tough, unless you’re living under a rock, to not have seen what the rule changes are,” he told the Red Knights.
“The line’s supposed to be in the sand: check from behind, boarding, hits to the head, that’s an automatic five (minutes). And you know what that means. That’s five minutes we’re short and they can score as much as they want. It can also carry a 10-minute misconduct and a DQ, which would put you out for the next game, as well. Honestly I’m not worried about it because that’s not our game, we don’t play that way.
“There are going to be mistakes made, that’s the nature of the game. We like to pride ourselves on a smart game, and we’re going to be smart all over the ice but we’re going to be smart about this, too. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also the way you’re going to win the game. You start doing this crap, you’re going to lose hockey games. Being safe and taking care of each other, and taking care of the other team you’re playing against is important, as well.”
One five-minute major for contact to the head put a St. Francis player in the penalty box early in the first period, but only minor penalties for holding, charging, elbowing, hooking, etc., were called the rest of the way.
The officiating crew of Brian LaShomb, Brad Larsen and Adam Knutson talked to the captains (Horton and Christian Horn from Benilde-St. Margaret's and Zach Foesch and Cameron Kaehler of St. Francis) about the rule changes on the ice as the teams warmed up.
Their message was as clear as Pauly’s: “You guys know what’s going on right? The onus is on you. If you see that hit, stay away from it. We hope there’s none of that. That would be awesome.” (Video also is posted on the MSHSL Facebook page.)
The game was one-sided, with the Red Knights outshooting St. Francis 56-12. Grant Besse, a junior who has made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Wisconsin, scored four goals and junior T.J. Moore scored twice.
After the game, Pauly was confident that everybody is on board with the new brand of hockey.
“First and foremost, I think the kids are very much aware of the rule,” he said. “That’s a good start. Hopefully we can keep their attention. The five-minute major came into play with one hit to the head, but honestly I don’t think I saw another play like that throughout the evening. Truth be told, I think some of the minors they’re calling now, I think that’s been stepped up. Which is good.”
St. Francis coach Tyler Schaff said that prior to the rule changes, playing a physical style would probably have been the Saints’ game plan against the fast-skating Red Knights.
“To play against a team like Benilde with all their skill, usually you’d want more contact,” he said. “We had a few more penalties today but they adjusted well to it. They keep their hands down, they see the number and they’re not going at them, they’re just containing. It was a lot better.
“We talked about Jack Jablonski and we also had a couple of team meetings where we went over the rules for the new penalties. These guys are a good group, they respect the rules, they respect the coaches and their teammates. They want to do what’s best.”
The Red Knights’ Horn said the changes are clearly the best thing for the game.
“It definitely does change the game quite a bit. There’s room for those younger guys who are skilled and fast and have good hands, they can step up and make something happen. They don’t have to wait until they’re seniors to really get noticed. There are those guys who are big and like to be enforcers; they have to play a different game now. They’ve got to find out what their game is, really, instead of trying to make it to the next level off of just being able to make big hits and everything.
“It really makes the game what it should be; skilled hockey up and down the ice, passing the puck, stickhandling, shooting and scoring goals, and goalies making saves.”
Horton agreed, saying the rule changes “really bring awareness to the kids and it makes the game more of what it should be, fast-paced, up and down the rink like it should be. It’s not about the big bruisers, the big hits along the boards or from behind. We want it back to the way it should be played; fast-paced hockey, scoring goals, stopping pucks. It’s good to have it back that way.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 251
*Miles John has driven: 5,583
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