Hockey Day in America: Jack Jablonski’s Road To Recovery


Today is Hockey Day in America, an all-day celebration of the sport throughout the United States. NBC will air nine hours of live coverage across its networks; here at PHT, we’re taking a look at stories of hockey’s impact across the country.

The nightmare scenario for any athlete in a contact sport is that in one instant, from one hit that goes bad, his or her life could change forever.

That worst-case scenario became a reality for Jack Jablonski when the then-16-year-old high school sophomore suffered spinal cord damage during a hockey game on Dec. 30, 2011.

“He dropped and didn’t move,” Jacks’ father, Mike Jablonski, said just days after the incident, according to the Star Tribune. “Right then and there I knew that my son, that there was something seriously wrong.”

Jablonski has faced plenty of adversity and a difficult recovery, but he hasn’t given up, and his determination to skate again has been inspirational to many, including his favorite football player, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

On the same day that the course of Jablonski’s life changed, Peterson was undergoing major knee surgery.

“He’s inspirational — way more significant than my situation,” Peterson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in December.

“To have the condition he’s had and to be able to overcome it, slowly, but overcome it, it takes willpower. It’s the same thing I used, but even more so on a different level. When you look at that, it definitely makes you feel more positive.”

Peterson met Jablonski and told him to stay positive through the bad times. That must help, because that sense of inspiration runs both ways.

“He was telling me to stay in it and said, ‘You never know what could happen and anything is possible,'” Jablonski recalled to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

“I’ve lived by that since then because he’s easily the best running back in the league and worldwide known. I mean, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s dealt with a serious injury. He’s not just making it up.”

So while Peterson bounced back to win the 2012 NFL MVP award, Jablonski has been making progress of his own, regaining some movement and even activating some muscles in his lower body, according to the NHL.com.

Jablonski also hasn’t put the game he loves behind him. He’s serving as a student-assistant coach in for his high school team and has ambitions to becoming a broadcaster or coach.

“Jack has a real good eye for the game. Before the injury, he was a terrific player. Guys who are really good players see things that other people don’t see,” his team’s coach, Ken Pauly said.

“Since his injury, he can just focus on those things like a laser beam. Jack is very much a part of our family and our team. I like valuable and talented people and Jack brings that.”

At the same time, he’s inspired the BEL13VE in Miracles foundation, which is dedicated to advancing the treatment of spinal cord injuries and one day finding a cure. The example he’s set has also helped raise over $50,000 for ABLE program scholarships, which is under the umbrella of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network.

“What Jack has been able to because of this program is amazing,” his mother, Leslie Jablonski said. “2013 is going to be Jack’s year. We all believe it.”

That’s a sentiment her son still shares more than 14 months after the hit.

“I can’t improve if I don’t try,” Jack Jablonski said. “What if something amazing happens today?”

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.

Coming Tuesday: Dan Boyle, $4.5M healthy scratch

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

Few things say “Oops, bad signing” quite like putting a really expensive player in street clothes (without an injury being involved).

The Philadelphia Flyers set quite the high bar in that regard, but the New York Rangers can’t laugh too much. Not with Dan Boyle expected to be a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

The word from the Bergen Record is that Dylan McIlrath will draw into the Rangers lineup in Boyle’s space, although Kevin Klein will take over Boyle’s role on the power play.

Let’s face the facts. At 39, Boyle may still boast some zip on offense, but maybe not enough to justify an everyday role.

It’s not the first time the Rangers have decided to make the difficult, awkward season to phase a big name out as he approaches age 40.

Even if it’s just a momentary situation, one cannot help but wonder if Boyle’s career is screeching to halt much like Martin St. Louis’ did in 2014-15 (though the latter’s decline was more sudden).

On the bright side, it sounds like Boyle has a side job lined up with Faith No More.