Minnesota high school hockey's stricter checking penalties adopted nationwide

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Some of Minnesota's stricter penalties for high school hockey will now become the national standard for the sport.

For the last two and a half seasons, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) has experimented with increasing penalties for boarding and checking from behind – like the play that left Benilde St. Margaret's hockey player Jack Jablonski paralyzed – to limit the risk of injury.

On Tuesday, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) announced it will adopt Minnesota's penalty structure after the MSHSL recommended the changes at a meeting in April. Now, in all states, boarding or checking from behind results in a 5-minute major penalty, plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty.

"I am proud that our work here in Minnesota has led to this national rules change," MSHSL league associate director Craig Perry said in a news release. "There is no question in my mind that the other states that sponsor high school hockey will find that the greater first level penalties for dangerous play, when enforced, make the great game of hockey even better while protecting players from violent hits that can cause catastrophic injury."

Dan Schuster of the NFHS said that by increasing the penalties for boarding and checking from behind, the committee wanted to make it clear that this type of dangerous play has no place in high school ice hockey, according to a news release.

Minnesota started implementing stricter penalties in the 2011-12 season following a series of on-ice injuries.

"What we have done is encouraged play that is smart and play that is safe," Perry said. "The stiffer penalties in Minnesota have made the game safer. We have improved the culture of high school hockey."

The NFHS says a total of 35,198 boys participated in ice hockey in 1,601 schools across 17 states in the 2012-13 season. An additional 9,447 girls participated in the sport at 608 schools in 14 states.

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Checking from behind, like the illegal hit that paralyzed Jack Jablonski last December, will continue to trigger an automatic 5-minute major penalty in Minnesota youth hockey for at least another year. The Star Tribune reports the board of Minnesota Hockey voted 18-6 on Sunday to continue the rule change that elevated the penalty from two minutes to five. An ad hoc committee recommended going back to the original penalty structure while stepping up "education and accountability" of coaches, game officials and players.

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Minnesota Hockey's board of directors is expected to vote Sunday whether to drop the tougher penalty structure that added more minutes for the most dangerous illegal hits. The rules were adopted soon after Jack Jablonski of Benilde-St. Margaret's was paralyzed by a check from behind. The Star Tribune reports the recommendation to undo the changes at the youth level stems from concerns the stiffer penalties take players off the ice for too long and hampers their ability to learn.