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Intent to Injure: Tweets Reveal Trouble

By Tony Scott, 02/01/13, 6:45AM CST


A year ago, Benilde St. Margaret’s Jack Jablonski was injured for life on a routine check versus Wayzata in a Junior Varsity game. His injury took Minnesota by storm. To this day, that incident made a positive impact on the safety of our game in Minnesota. Parents, coaches, and officials from all over the state are extremely sensitive to dangerous body contact plays.

As a whole, coaches at all levels are doing a great job of teaching proper body contact…thus creating a safer environment for both girls and boys all over the state.

However, there is still a very dark side to hockey in Minnesota that needs to be addressed. Over the past six weeks, YHH has discovered a disturbing trend at the high school level. Players are being encouraged to injure their opponents. A handful of High School players have actually tweeted comments indicating that they have targeted players, hitting them intentionally.

Dozens of tweets have been reported to YHH, but these two sum up the sentiments of two high school players:

“Shout Out to Player X on that dirty play, you rock, so funny.”

This tweet was in reference to a player being taken from the game. The player chimed back in reference to missing the next game due to penalty:

“missing the next game kinda sucks… was an accident.”

When we heard of these allegations, we found it hard to believe. The Minnesota High School Coaches Association is one of the most respected associations in all of sports. They are well educated, passionate teachers, and very progressive in how they train their athletes. So we did some digging.

Why would players be bragging about dirty play?

We discovered that some coaches allegedly ‘mark’ opposing players for physical play.  This “marking” is not something new to sports. It’s a coach’s job to identify the opposition’s best player and stop them. But under no circumstances, should coaches instruct their players do more just ‘cover’ their players. Are coaches saying, ‘Injure Best Player X? No.  But it is quite evident that coaches reward players after dangerous hits to the opposition. Or even worse, coaches do not discipline lesser players who ‘take out’ the opposing team’s superstar, essentially rewarding the bucking third liner to do it again.

To be clear, we’re not trying to blow this out of proportion. But when you begin to see a pattern of tweets by kids, it tells you that someone says it’s OK to be over aggressive, even dangerous if it gets the job done. This is purely speculation, but suppose Coach X has a third liner who injures the opposing team superstar.  The coach X perhaps instructs his team thus:

‘if their superstar leaves the game, and we win — the player responsible for taking that superstar out is on the team for the rest of the season…’

Actions like this are happening in our land of Minnesota nice. The home of Jack Jablonski. To make matters worse, what used to be a silent way of life for some players…it’s now not so silent. Goons (as we use to call them), now have their own limited audience press conferences called Twitter. To read the tweets from some players about their actions on the ice is even more alarming than our coaches disregard for the safety.

Poor judgement via twitter is not the context of this post.  The context is that this type of behavior needs to be stopped by the coaches and the players. Most parents, even at a squirt game will complain about the refs, “the refs called it way too tight” or “those refs let everything go tonight”.

Ultimately the safety of the players on both benches comes down to the coaches.  They hold the cards, they say who plays and who doesn’t…not the parents and not the refs.

Despite an increased movement by USA Hockey toward less body contact and safer play, there is still a silent minority of coaches and players that are hopeful that body contact can be restored to the level it once was. To be frank, this movement is dying as fast as a Squirt A player chasing a loose puck with the game on the line. Most hockey people love a good body check, but deep inside they know that even a good body check can be very dangerous and could knock their opponent out of the game, out for the season, or in some cases out for the rest of their life.

On paper, injuries are down…games are being stopped less frequently and malicious hits are becoming a thing of the past. However, there is still a very dark side to hockey in Minnesota that needs to be exposed.

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