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?”

Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.

Flyers’ Gagner to miss another week after Malone hit

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The nasty blow Sam Gagner took in Monday’s game against Carolina will keep him on the shelf for a little bit.

On Wednesday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said the club expected Gagner to be out around a week with injuries suffered on the hit, delivered by ‘Canes forward Brad Malone (per the Inquirer).

Gagner suffered a fairly significant facial laceration, which forced him from the game entirely. He didn’t practice on Tuesday and, in a corresponding move, the Flyers called up Colin McDonald from the AHL to fill Gagner’s spot on the roster.

This is the second facial injury Gagner’s suffered in recent years. He’d previously had his jaw broken by an errant Zack Kassian high stick, while he was with the Oilers and Kassian the Canucks.

Prior to getting hurt, Gagner had two goals and five points in 18 games, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

‘It’s absolutely not true’ — Lemieux denies report of ‘big falling out’ with Crosby

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 and Mario Lemieux #66 of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a few words during a break in action against the New Jersey Devils in their NHL opening night game at the Continental Airlines Arena on October 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The Devils won 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just hours after Matthew Barnaby went on the radio and said he’d heard that Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux had had a “big falling out,” Lemieux came out and denied it.

“It’s absolutely not true,” said Lemieux, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s silly.”

Today marked the second time in less than two weeks that the Penguins have been forced do some damage control.

Last week, the Penguins insisted that they weren’t actually “mad at each other,” as Evgeni Malkin had put it after a bad loss to New Jersey.

“He did not mean we are mad at each other,” said Crosby. “He meant we are frustrated.”