ST. PAUL, Minn. — Vancouver Canucks defenceman Andrew Alberts has been a healthy scratch several times this season and sometimes that requires a little perspective.
Alberts got it when the Twin Cities native gathered a few of his Canucks teammates after Wednesday's late-afternoon practice and visited Jack Jablonski, the 16-year-old Minneapolis-area teen who was left paralyzed after a hit from behind during a junior varsity high school hockey game on Dec. 30.
Jablonski's devastating injury had an effect on most who play the game, either professionally or recreationally, but few more so than Alberts.
Jablonski attends the same high school Alberts graduated from — Benilde-St. Margaret's — and Alberts met the teen last summer.
"Every now and then they'll grab a group of young kids and they'll come and work out with the pro guys at the gym we train at," Alberts said before Thursday night's game against the Minnesota Wild. "So I had a chance to meet him this past summer and he's just a great kid, a good hockey player. You don't want to see it happen to anybody, but he's got the right attitude. That's the biggest thing."
Alberts and the other Canucks who visited Jablonski — including Cory Schneider, Dan Hamhuis, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alex Edler, Mason Raymond and Manny Malhotra — were all struck by his positive attitude.
"It must be so frustrating to be laying in a bed when he should be at high school playing hockey with his friends," Hamhuis said. "But he seemed to be doing really well. He was upbeat and carried the conversation in a room with seven or eight NHL guys. It was pretty neat to see."
Jablonski's spinal cord was severed and two vertebrae were fractured when he was hit from behind in that game. He was recently moved from hospital to a rehabilitation centre and Alberts said he is making remarkable progress.
"It's tough to see anybody like that, but his spirits are up and he's breaking new barriers every day doing things they said he wasn't going to do," Alberts said. "I'm proud of his effort and he is staying positive and that is the biggest thing. He was talking about the video game he is playing with electrodes attached to his triceps so every time he flexes his triceps he works the game.
"So his muscles are moving and and he's starting to feel things with his left and right hands. Every day is a building block for him and he sees progress every day and it's huge."
Alberts said Jablonski seemed particularly delighted to meet the Sedins.
"I think he was surprised at how many guys came. I know Hank and Danny are a couple of his favourite players and he enjoyed it."
Schneider said the visit will have a lasting impact on him and the rest of his teammates.
"Andrew wanted a few of us to go down and let Jack know that he is not alone and that we are thinking of him," Schneider said. "The hockey community is pretty tight-knit and we all know it could happen to anybody at any time. That's the scary reality of it. He was unfortunate enough to have it happen to him at such a young age. It was the least we could do to share our thoughts and show him we're behind him and hopefully he can make as much of a recovery as he can."
Jablonski tweeted this:
Got the pleasure of meeting 8 Vancouver Canucks tonight
Jenna Privette, a female hockey player from Minnesota, also suffered the same injury and is also paralyzed. The media hasn't reported her story at all. Everyone seems transfixed on Jablonski's so Privette hasn't gotten the same support. Wish someone would report her story too. I'm sure the Canucks would have loved to stop by and lend her some support.
At any rate, great to see that the team gives back to the community not only in Vancouver but wherever they go.