Minnesota hockey coaches and officials say temporary rules adopted to make the youth game safer do more good than harm and should be made permanent.
Minnesota Hockey introduced tougher penalties for dangerous hits after Benilde-St. Margaret’s player Jack Jablonski became paralyzed Dec. 30, 2011, when he was checked from behind and went head-first into the boards.
The rules instituted soon after Jablonski was hurt are temporary. But Ken Pauly, president of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association, said they should be made permanent. Minnesota Hockey officials say the organization will consider whether to make the changes permanent next month.
The rules will be in place for the Minnesota high school hockey tournament, which opens Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Under the temporary rules, players whistled for checking from behind, boarding, or hitting an opponent’s head or neck are given five-minute majors, forcing them to remain in the penalty box for the entire five minutes, even if the other team scores.
In addition to the new penalties, coaches are also required to complete training on preventing and managing concussions.
Coaches said the new rules have resulted in cleaner play and fewer penalties overall. They said players who draw the long penalties learn their lessons.
The change in the game is “more good than bad,” said Bill Lechner, coach of Hill-Murray, the top-seeded school in Class 2A.
“We had a defenseman called for a 5-minute major in the first game so he had to change the way he played,” he said. “You see fewer hits along the boards and when guys have their backs turned. And there are fewer of those hits over the middle when the other guy has his head down.”
Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said he sees a “higher respect” among players.
“What everyone wants is more safety for the kids and I think it’s moving in the right direction,” he said.
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