To call the story “fairytale” would be unfair to Jack Jablonski, but the story played out as best it could after Jablonski was paralyzed in a high school hockey game while playing for Benilde St. Margaret’s School this season.
His Red Knights went on a surprising run at the end of the season, as they cruised through their own playoffs, and eventually won the 2A division of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, which they had dedicated to him. For those of you wondering if that tournament is a big deal or not….
….again, that’s high school hockey. Attendance at some of the games exceeded 19,000 fans.
Jablonski was not allowed on the ice to celebrate with the team after the big victory (as per Minnesota State High School rules, but…really?), so the team did the only thing they could do – they took the celebration off the ice and into the dressing room, so they could share the moment with their teammate.
In an interview with Fox Sports North, Benilde St. Maragret’s head coach Ken Pauly weighed in on the extreme lows, extreme highs, and everything in between for his special team:
“It’s been emotional. It’s been psychological. It’s been spiritual. It’s been life-changing,” Pauly said. “And those are things you can’t always say about a season. There’s a lot of great things you can say about a season win or lose, but life-changing? Coaches always speak in cliches about a kid growing up. You know, ‘He really grew up this year.’ We’re talking about, well, he got 20 more goals or he’s more responsible.
“But I watched a bunch of guys in front of me really grow in a million different ways as young men in terms of caring about someone else. And not just putting words to it, putting action to it.”
One guy in particular can be thanked for completing the run for a team who’s been through so much this season - Grant Besse scored all five goals in his team’s 5-1 win over Hill-Murray, including a short-handed hat-trick(!).
As the time ticked down, the still-haloed Jablonski was able to listen to the crowd chant “We saw a miracle” and “All for Jabby” before heading down from his suite to the room.
“We saw a miracle” has stemmed from the school’s mantra picked up in the wake of the horrible accident, “I want to see a miracle.” Of course, the miracle everyone wants to see is Jablonski exceed expectations in his recovery, but for now, the hope is that the state title at least provided a few rays of sunshine in a year shrouded in gloom for Jack and many others around the hockey club.
It’s not going to be an easy road ahead for Jablonski, but he is doing daily physical therapy, and has gained some movement in his arms.
The majority of the state of Minnesota and beyond was rooting for the Red Knights to achieve this goal, if for no other reason than to let some of that sun in. Between scoring with 24 seconds left in the quarterfinals to advance, and getting it done with Jablonski present in the finals, I think it’s safe to say they did all they could.
We’ll keep an eye on Jablonski’s progress going forward. The hockey community is tight; when the games end, we can’t stop rooting for our guys.