Jack Jablonski, the 16-year old Minnesota hockey player paralyzed in a New Years Eve high school tournament game, is a state champion. Jablonski’s Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights cruised to a 5-1 victory over The Hill-Murray School Saturday at the Minnesota State Hockey Championship with their sophomore teammate cheering them on from a suite in the arena. The Red Knights entered the tournament unseeded and scored a last-minute 3-2 upset of Edina in the quarterfinals before crushing Lakeville South 10-1 to reach the finals.
The fact that Jablonski attended the tournament and could celebrate with his teammates in the locker room after the game shows just how far he’s come since his January surgery to fuse two fractured vertebrae in his spinal chord. Doctors initially said he would lose all muscle function below his biceps, yet Jablonski continues to prove them wrong not three months removed from the injury. Look no further than the picture posted at left, which also adorned the front page of Sunday’s issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, to see that Jablonski is regaining function of his right hand and making progress on his left. Perhaps the most impressive part of Jack’s recovery is his unwavering positivity and determination to return to a life of normalcy.
“If I’m doing this so quickly and I’m not supposed to be doing this at this time, what could I be doing a month down the road?” Jablonski told Kare-11 in February.
Jablonski made enough progress to surprise his team in late February by attending their first section 6 tournament game and was able to join the team on the ice for the trophy presentation after the team won the section championship game. Seeing Jablonski hoist the trophy surrounded by his teammates was an emotional experience for BSM coach Ken Pauly after the two most challenging months of his 22-year career. In the face of such an unforeseen tragedy, Pauly did a phenomenal job keeping his players focused on the season while still paying tribute to their injured teammate.
“We’ve had the right perspective on it from the beginning,” Pauly said. “The noise gets amplified the farther we go, and it isn’t always easy. Every question asked goes back to Jack. But we don’t hide from it. We embrace it.”
Once Jablonski began to heal in the weeks after surgery, Pauly started giving him game tapes to watch and analyze from his hospital bed. Constant visits from teammates, coaches, friends and family kept him updated on the team’s progress and by the time sections rolled around Jablonski felt strong enough to return to the rink for the first time since his injury. His return gave the team an emotional lift that carried them through Saturday.
“You can’t overplay the Jabby card but I guess you can’t underestimate the power of that sort of motivation, that love for a teammate and what that does for you,” Pauly said.
That motivational energy could be felt all over the Excel Energy Center Saturday night, with the BSM student section engaging in chants of “All for Jabs” and “We love Jabby” throughout the game. The team responded on the ice with five goals from junior Grant Besse and a relentless offensive attack that didn’t stop until the final buzzer rang. After the on-ice celebration, Jablonski joined his teammates in the locker room for what Pauly called “a chance to be back together as a team alone away from the cameras.”
The Star Tribune reported Tuesday that Jablonski will receive a State Championship medal even though he wasn’t able to celebrate on the ice with his teammates after the game due to Minnesota State High School League rules. While he never imagined his team’s emotional saga ending in storybook fashion, Pauly stressed throughout the weekend that winning the championship is only a chapter of the story. Jablonski still has a challenging road ahead and needs the support he received during the season to continue through the ups and downs that lie ahead in his continued recovery. But for one night, Jablonski and his teammates could celebrate, together, everything they’ve accomplished on and off the ice in two and a half difficult months.
“It’s been emotional,” Pauly said. “It’s been spiritual. It’s been life-changing. I’ve seen a bunch of guys really grow, in a lot of different ways, in terms of caring about someone else. And not just putting words to it, but putting action to it. Considering the situation, we’ve all just kind of kept going forward. It is a relief and a release all at once.”
Keep inspiring us Jabs.
To make a donation to the Jack Jablonski Fund, visit
To follow Jack’s recovery, visit his Caring Bridge Page at
For more information on BSM winning the Minnesota State Hockey Championship and Jablonski’s recovery, visit the following links:
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