Dartmouth Player Has Reason to BEL13VE
Jack Jablonski, right, is visited by Colorado College hockey players and Minnesota natives Archie Skalbeck, left, and Michael Morin as his brother Max Jablonski, 13, looks on, at Hennepin County Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 20, 2012, in Minneapolis. Jablonski, 16, was paralyzed during a hockey game last December. Colorado College's hockey team plays the Minnesota Gophers tonight and Saturday. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)
Dartmouth College's Brett Patterson works to block a loose puck against Northeastern earlier this season. The sophomore and Minnesota native switched his jersey to No. 13 this winter in support of hockey friend Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed after absorbing a body check two years ago. Jablonski also wore No. 13 when he played the sport.
Photograph courtesy Mark Washburn
Hanover — It’s not uncommon to see Dartmouth College men’s hockey players switch jersey numbers. Rick Pinkston went from 23 to 7, Brandon McNally from 18 to 15 and Cab Morris from 33 to 1. Amid such shuffling, it was easy to overlook Brett Patterson’s move from 21 to 13 in October. But the choice wasn’t just a surface preference, it was a deeply personal decision.
Patterson, a 21-year-old native of suburban Minneapolis, chose his new numerals to honor Jack Jablonski, a junior varsity player at his former high school who became a quadriplegic in 2011 after taking a hit from behind during a game. Jablonski, now 18 and a senior at the private Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, Minn., also wore 13 when he skated for the Red Knights.
“Growing up I hated the number, and no one liked 13 except for odd people,” Patterson said. “But now, wearing it has a lot of meaning for me. He’s always in the back of my mind for inspiration.”
There was an initial outpouring of national media attention after Jablonski’s injury. Although that has passed, his family and its supporters continue to work and raise funds in support of spinal cord injury and paralysis research.
Their nonprofit organization, the Jack Jablonski Foundation, funnels much of its money to the University of Louisville (Ky.) Hospital. Leslie Jablonski, Jack’s mother, said Dr. Susan Harkema is seeing promising results at the hospital using an electrical stimulation device implanted near patients’ spines.
“We’ve done a lot of (learning) since he was hurt; my husband is on a mission to fix him,” Leslie Jablonski said of her son. “It’s great to support Dr. Harkema, because she’s giving people hope.”
Patterson, who hails from Eden Prairie, Minn., played two seasons at Benilde-St. Margaret’s before competing another two seasons for the junior-level Sioux City (Iowa) Musketeers. It was while there that he got a phone call from his parents, telling him of Jablonski’s injury. The Pattersons had been at the same rink earlier in the day while attending a game played by Brett’s younger brother. Two days later, Brett was checked from behind and suffered a concussion that kept him out of action for 36 days.
“This is a sport where you can’t run out of bounds,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “To lose a race to a puck and then hit somebody from behind? Nothing’s that important. It’s a bad part of the game that we’re all trying to get rid of.”
Jablonski was slammed into the boards from behind by an opponent who was issued a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. The boy later asked for and received Jack’s forgiveness in a darkened hospital room. He has since quit hockey.
Meanwhile, the Jablonski family’s life was turned upside down.
Builders, architects and friends helped design and raise money to remodel the family’s house so it could more easily accommodate their son’s needs. Jack worked hard enough in rehabilitation that he was able to return to school for the start of his junior year in the fall of 2012.
Designated friends sit next to him in class, helping him with academics and personal needs, and he types on an iPad with the pinky finger knuckle of his right hand. The same teammates who once skated alongside him now feed him in the cafeteria during lunch. The team won a state title in 2012 and included their friend in the championship celebration. Jablonski was voted a captain of this winter’s team and acts as a student assistant coach.
“He’s still making progress, which is what matters,” said Leslie Jablonski, adding that Jack has almost a full range of motion in his arms, but struggles to grasp objects, although he recently played pingpong with a paddle strapped to his hand. “He’s an 18-year-old boy, so he likes going to the casino with his friends, and he texts a lot.”
Patterson, who knew Jack Jablonski as an acquaintance from skating with Benilde-St. Margaret’s players during the summers and holiday breaks, has helped at Jablonski Foundation events and visited with the family during his recent holiday break. His mother, Josie, volunteers for the Foundation, and she and her friends give Leslie Jablonski social outlets to help her relieve stress and remain engaged with doings outside her caregiving and fundraising work.
Jack Jablonski “doesn’t want people to feel bad for him; he just wants to be a normal kid, so that’s how I act around him,” Brett Patterson said. “It was awkward for me to see him for the first time after the accident, but that disappeared as soon as he opened his mouth.
“He’s pretty lighthearted about the whole thing. There have to be terrible days during rehab, when he’s thinking that it’s never going to stop. But then he comes back and he’s always smiling and loves to be around his team.”
Jablonski recently sent out a Twitter message in which he joked about not being able to feel his phone’s vibrations on his lap when his mother called, but he acknowledged the hard times during an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune in November.
“I know that I could be like this forever,” he said. “I’m … not at all confident. I just hope it will change eventually.”
More challenges loom ahead for Jablonski, whose body cannot regulate its temperature. He recently applied to colleges in warm-weather states and may study broadcasting. The logistics of such a move overwhelm his mother at times, but she’s unwilling to deny her son that choice.
“We want him to be able to move on with his life and follow his dreams and do whatever he wants to do,” she said, noting that Jack will require 24-hour care for the foreseeable future. “It’s going to take a lot of effort, but nothing impossible.”
At Dartmouth, Patterson uses his friendship with the Jablonskis to motivate himself through his own, relatively minor struggles. The Big Green is 2-11-2, beset by injuries and flirting with the possibility of its worst overall record in nearly 20 years. However, the sophomore has been a bright spot, playing at defense and forward and becoming one of his team’s best players. On one wrist, he wears a rubber band emblazoned with No. 13, Jablonski’s name and the phrase BEL13VE IN MIRACLES.
“I feel like it’s my duty, as part of the Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Minnesota hockey communities, to be a part of it and to spread the word,” Patterson said. “It’s not like I’m handing out bracelets and trying to get people to wear them.
“But I have a symbol on my back at all times when I’m playing, and I like that.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.