This past weekend, the MInnesota State High School League took an unprecedented step of changing the rules mid-season, by stiffening the penalties on three of the most violent and dangerous infractions in hockey: checking from behind, boarding and contact to the head will now result in an automatic five-minute "major" against the offending player resulting in ejection and forcing his team to play short-handed for five minutes, regardless of how many times it is scored upon during the ensuing power play.
The recent injury to 16 year-old Jack Jablonski proved to be the tipping point in reigning in a culture of intimidation and the hit first, play second attitude that has come to permeate high school hockey in Minnesota. Coaches and referees will also now be required to watch a ten- minute video explaining why the rule changes were necessary.
Blaming refeeres, parents, college hockey or the NHL won't cut it anymore; the final responsibility will now rest on the shoulders of high school coaches. But unless the coaches support the rule changes and officials when the calls are made, the rule changes won't make hockey any safer.
To those who say the rule changes are unnecessary and just another example of over-regulation, I point to the the dregulation of the financial industry, which brought our country - and the world- to near financial ruin. The same has been true, up to now, in ice hockey, where lax enforcement and too much discretion on the part of referees has brought us to this point of severe and catastrophic injuries to kids as young as 9 years old.
it is true that some injuries in contact and collison sports are inevitable, but at the rate youth and high school ice hockey was going, it wouldn't have been too long before it was considered one of the "extreme sports" that are so popular on television these days; you know, the ones where, after the big crash or fall, the show cuts to a commercial and, when it comes back, the seriously injured participant has already been stretchered off to a waiting ambulance.
The Minnesota State High School League is to be applauded for finally doing something to try to make the game safer. More rule changes and even tougher penalties might be needed, but you know the old saying: you've gotta start somewhere.