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

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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’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.