Jeremy Roenick and Jack Jablonski's friendship began as many relationships do in the digital age: on Twitter.
Roenick -- who played for six teams over 18 NHL seasons and became the third American-born player to reach the 500-goal milestone -- fondly remembers how Jablonski would engage him on the platform. At just 16 years old, Jablonski grabbed Roenick's attention with his clever comebacks and jabs, especially when he felt Roenick was being unfair to the Minnesota Wild, his hometown team.
So when Roenick first heard from a mutual friend that Jablonski had been badly hurt in a hockey game between Benilde-St. Margaret's and Wayzata in December of 2011, he was heartbroken. Three days later, he was on a plane to Minnesota.
"He came and visited me for five hours in the hospital," Jablonski said of their first meeting. "We got to know each other really well and hit it off right away."
"It seemed like an hour. It seemed like thirty minutes," Roenick said. "We became family pretty much instantly."
The two have come a long way since their first meeting almost five years ago. When Jablonski was paralyzed, his initial prognosis was bleak. Doctors expected that with quadriplegia, he might never regain feeling and movement in his hands along with his legs and feet.
But Jablonski has never let his injury define him, and he continues to exceed even the most optimistic expectations. He now has some control of his arms and hands, something Roenick says is an inspiration to him.
"He's just such a special kid," Roenick said. "He inspires me. He really makes me feel that I can be better myself."
Roenick is deeply involved in Jablonski's Bel13ve In Miracles Foundation, which he and those close to him founded to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries in the hope that, someday, a medical advancement will help those who have been paralyzed walk again, or, in Jablonski's case, skate again.
"Obviously, we've all drawn the short end of the stick being put in this situation," Jablonski said. "But now that we're here, having the opportunity to make a change and benefit other people in this position, we're here for the long run to raise money for spinal cord injury research and awareness and to further the process of getting back on our feet."
On Saturday, the Foundation hosted the "A Night to Bel13ve" gala before and during the Wild's contest against the Colorado Avalanche. With Roenick and Jablonski in attendance, the silent auction raised more than $350,000 for spinal cord injury research and paralysis recovery.
"He goes to most every event, even though he's halfway across the country," Jablonski said of Roenick. "It's been great to have his support with his connections and his personality. I can't thank him enough for everything he's done for us."
Jablonski remains in physical therapy, and he keeps his many fans and supporters updated on his progress via the same medium where he first reached out to Roenick. In September, he tweeted that he was beginning to feel lower back pain.
Nowadays, Jablonski attends the University of Southern California on a scholarship from the Swim With Mike organization and is majoring in communications. In the time he's not studying, he works as an intern for the Los Angeles Kings. Roenick is close by in San Diego, California. Both he and Jablonski, who grew up in frigid ice rinks, love the sunshine.
And of course, the pair stays in touch via text, where Roenick says Jablonski offers words of wisdom and tough love.
"When I have a bad day and I get frustrated with what's happening in my life sometimes, I just think of Jack saying, 'Suck it up,'" Roenick said. "I can hear it coming out of his mouth: 'Suck it up.'"