Joe Nieuwendyk had a lot on his mind on Saturday.
His team, sitting in tenth place in the Western Conference was two points shy of the eighth and final playoff spot with two games remaining until the All-Star break. Dallas’ tough loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning the night before nagged him.
But on this particular afternoon, there was something else on Nieuwendyk’s mind, something more important than hockey – a sort of reality check about how quickly life can change.
That’s because Nieuwendyk spent part of his day standing in a Minnesota hospital room visiting with a 16-year-old who is now paralyzed from the neck down.
That 16-year-old’s name is Jack Jablonski. Jablonski was injured in a hockey game in late December after hitting the boards head first after being checked from behind during one of his high school hockey games. He broke two vertebrae and has spent the better part of January in and out of surgery to fuse together three vertebrae to protect his spinal cord from further injury.
The prognosis is bleak. Doctors believe he may never be able to walk again.
But with tragedy comes inspiration, and that’s exactly what Jablonski has done for the entire hockey community.
The Dallas Stars and Nieuwendyk are one of about 20 teams that have reached out to the injured young high schooler since the accident. His hospital room, which is adorned with team signed jerseys of just about every NHL club, has seen a constant conga line of NHL stars from nearly every corner of the hockey community. Nieuwendyk presented Jablonski with a team-signed jersey, hat, and a stick with a personal message to him.
“Keep hope alive.”
He also spoke to Jablonski for over 40 minutes about hockey and life. It was the kind of gesture that makes hockey such a tight-knit community.
Nieuwendyk would leave the self-proclaimed “State of Hockey” with a loss and a heavy heart on Saturday night. What he gained however, was significantly more valuable. The events of the day served to remind him that even when things appear to bleak, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
The Dallas Stars are inviting fans to help the cause and support the Jack Jablonski Fund. Monetary donations will go towards future medical expenses, including retrofitting the Jablonski residence to accommodate Jack once he gets home. For more information on how you can help, please visit www.jabby13.com.