New hockey rules appropriate, local coaches say
Just weeks after hockey injuries left two Minnesota prep athletes seriously injured on the ice, state officials announced a change in rules that stiffens penalties for certain hockey hits.
The Minnesota State High School League's board of directors on Friday approved immediate changes to hockey policies governing dangerous contact.
Local coaches expressed support for the change, saying it sends a positive message that safety is priority in prep sports.
"As long as it's enforced, then that's great," said Woodbury boys hockey coach Wes Bolin. "It should have a good impact on the game."
East Ridge boys hockey coach Doug Long said the league changes make sense.
"It'll be interesting to see what happens," he said. "I appreciate it just from the standpoint of it being for the safety of the game."
The Minnesota hockey for weeks has rallied around Benilde-St. Margaret hockey player Jack Jabonblonski, who was paralyzed after a Dec. 30 check from behind. One week later, St. Croix Lutheran girls hockey player Jenna Privette was seriously injured during contact in a game; like Jablonski, remains hospitalized.
Bolin said the time had come for a change.
"Yeah, there probably is a need for some sort of a change or an emphasis," he said.
The changes call for three collision-related penalties to be intensified.
Checking from behind - the hit Jablonski received - now becomes a five-minute major penalty, plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty. Players who are deemed to have issued flagrant hits from behind that send opponents into the boards or goalie's frame will continue to receive a game disqualification, which also calls for the offending player to sit out the next game.
Any hit that sends an opponent "violently into the boards" is now an automatic major penalty, beefing up the term from two minutes.
The third change applies to head contact and also generates a new five-minute major penalty for those hits. It replaced a rule that allowed for discretion on whether it could be a two-minute minor or a five-minute major.
Bolin said he would be discussing the changes with his players at this week's first practice.
"We emphasize safety and respect for our opponent," Bolin said, "but (the changes) will enhance what we do even now."
Long planned to talk with his players about the changes when they returned to practice early this week. He hoped to stress on the players that the changes could benefit them if they play smart.
"I'm going to see it to them as, 'Hey, look, this is an opportunity for us,'" Long said, adding that East Ridge has seen "some pretty flagrant hits against us" and has been fortunate to avoid serious injuries.
"I think it's the right direction to go," he said of the new rules.
Bolin doubted the changes will require major adjustments, saying most players already abide rules governing violent contact.
But not everyone, he said.
"Everyone will get the message after the first one is called," Bolin said.
South Washington County Editor Scott Wente contributed to this report