While Jablonski's injury was, of course, his parent's worst nightmare, and will change his life forever, such injuries are fortunately quite rare in ice hockey but the publicity, in this instance, has prompted calls for the leaders of youth and high school hockey in Minnesota to demand stricter rule enforcement, better coaching, and more severe penalties for dangerous and illegal "hits" that lead to hockey being a sport with one of the highest rates of concussion.
"Hockey Moms" (and dads, too, of course) are outraged and concerned about the safety of their kids. They want to know what can be done to make hockey safer and reduce the risk of injury to their child. Injuries in hockey, as in any contact or collision sport which involves collisions, whether intentional or unintentional, are part of the game. But the limited data we do have suggests that we can reduce the injury levels by taking the following steps:
- Strictly enforcing the rules and giving officials less discretion in calling penalties that do not seem to result in injury
- Parental support of officials who make the penalty calls. Parents need to understand that penalties are called to prevent injuries like Jablonski's which could be catastrophic in the blink of an eye. Safety should always trump winning.
- Better coaching in skill fundamentals, especially skating. The data from Pee Wee hockey suggests that the lower the skill level, the higher the injury rate. Players need to be taught how to protect themselves along the wall and on the end-boards. This is a primary responsibility of all coaches.
Hockey is a great game when it is played with respect and sportsmanship. But all the stakeholders in youth hockey need to work together to develop better training for coaching, better coaching of skills for kids, and stricter enforcement of the rules by game officials if we are going to keep it great.