News

Controversy surrounds hit to Jenna Privette

By Kevin Kurtt
Let’s Play Hockey Editor

Two injured Minnesota high school hockey players lie in hospital beds just steps away from each other in the Hennepin County Medical Center. One will likely never walk again. The other probably will.

One has received a significant outpouring of support from celebrities, NHL all-stars and countless members of the hockey community around the state and nation. The other has received far less public support.

One has had his story covered extensively almost daily by the local media. The other has had her story covered with much less detail and frequency.

One has a story surrounding the circumstances to his injury that few, if any, debate. The other has a story that has been debated by nearly everyone involved in the incident.

Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette may lie in hospital beds just steps away from each other, but controversy surrounds only one of the young hockey players.

This much is not up for debate: In a game between the Minnehaha Saints and the St. Paul Blades on Jan. 6, 2012, Saints senior forward Jenna Privette was injured late in the third period after an incident behind the Blades net.

After that, the debate begins.

According to the referees’ report to the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), “(Jenna Privette) fell where she was standing. She was not contacted illegally, did not fall into the boards and did not appear to fall awkwardly to the ice ... I consulted my partner, the linesman, the EMT on staff and the Minnehaha AD as to what they saw, and everyone agreed that the player appeared to fall unaided.”

The Privette family has a vastly different account of the incident.

“I got nailed from behind and hit the boards,” Jenna said. “I instantly couldn’t feel my legs.”

“It happened right in front of me and my dad,” Jenna Privette’s brother, Jake, said.  “What happened was ... Jenna came around the back of the net and [the Blades player] took three hard strides and gave her two hands right in the back. Jenna’s head hit the glass.”

“Jenna was going behind the net and went to pivot, and then the girl hit her. It was not a malicious hit,” Dan Privette, Jenna’s father, said. “The truth needs to be told. How did she end up in this condition if she was not hit? When the high school league issues a referees’ report, both sides should be interviewed.”

Kevin Merkle, the MSHSL’s associate director in charge of officials, supported the referees’ report.

“The report from the officials says that there was not any illegal contact, and several others who were at the game and saw the play felt the same way,” Merkle said. “From those reports and from what we can see in the video, we support that there does not appear to be a check from behind or any other illegal contact. Although difficult to see on the video, there does appear to be some contact.

“The parents obviously feel differently, may have seen the play differently, and are certainly entitled to their opinion. To me, the issue is that she suffered a serious injury and we hope and pray that she can make a complete recovery.”

An e-mail seeking further comment from Minnehaha Academy AD Homar Martinez was not returned. The Privette family has not heard from any Minnehaha Academy administrators since the injury.

Other parents in attendance at the game that night corroborate the Privettes’ account.

“I was standing in the corner near where the hit occurred,” Bob Raymond said. “Jenna came behind the net, picked up the puck with her back towards center ice, looking to make a play. She was hit in the back and fell into the boards.”

“I was in the corner next to (Bob) Raymond, and Jenna’s dad and brother,” Jeff Oberle said. “She came behind the net with the puck and was turned towards the boards when a girl came from in front of the net and they collided. Jenna went down and didn’t move. It was a hit from behind.”

“Jenna definitely got hit,” Tom Lynn, a former Minnesota Wild assistant general manager, said.

Video aired by WCCO-TV appears to confirm that Privette was indeed checked from behind into the boards.

 

 

The referees’ report also said that “the game was very clean with a penalty shot being granted to Minnehaha in the second period that was not successful, and 3 or 4 other minor penalties for tripping and hooking.”

Parents in attendance that night dispute the account that the game was “very clean.”

“It was a rough game,” Lynn said. “[A Saints player] got injured on a knee-to-knee check with no call and it got rougher after that. The game was getting unsafe.”

“The game was getting chippy,” Dr. Robert McNamara said. “The game had a lot more contact than I thought should be allowed in girls’ hockey.”

Though upset that the official account doesn’t seem to match the accounts of some of those at the game, the Privettes are confident in their side of the story.

“We’re not livid about the referees’ report, but we know the truth,” Penny Privette, Jenna’s mother, said. “We are confident in what we saw and what we know. You don’t get paralyzed just by falling down.”

As for Jenna, she’s able to move her upper body and get around the hospital in a wheelchair. She did not break any bones, nor sever her spinal cord, but did suffer a paralysis-causing injury and still has no feeling below her waist.

“Jenna Privette got presented to HCMC with acute paraplegia,” Dr. Stephen Swanson, MD, Pediatric Inpatient Medical Director for HCMC, said. “Extensive and detailed imaging of her complete spinal cord was performed during her hospitalization. Additional consultative services were provided by neurological surgery, neurology and physical medicine and rehabilitation. She received directed physical and occupational therapy. At this time, challenges remain in the area of managing pain and physical therapy remains beneficial as she recovers her ability to ambulate independently.”

“One doctor compared it to a concussion of the spine,” Penny said. “[The doctors] have said this is not psychological. This is all very real. Her body just has to re-learn. It’s a time factor for her. It’s going to be a lot of physical therapy.”

Her senior hockey season now over, Privette hopes to return to her athletic career as a standout catcher for the St. Croix Lutheran softball team once she has returned to 100 percent.

“I expect a full and complete recovery,” Dr. Swanson said. “Her prognosis is excellent.”

The injury to Privette occurred just one week after Jablonski was paralyzed after being checked from behind into the boards during a junior varsity game between Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Wayzata.

The debate continues around the hockey community as to the circumstances of the hit to Jenna Privette, as well as her medical condition.

To Mike Schwartz, a former Augsburg College hockey coach and a close friend of Dan Privette, there’s no question the family is telling the truth.

“Dan is first class. He does things for the right reasons. It’s a shame someone has to defend themselves like this. I don’t know how anyone could question his integrity.”

For the Privettes, their focus is on getting their daughter back to 100 percent and to bring awareness to the physicality of the game, especially girls’ hockey.

“I’m just focused on my daughter right now, but the rules and the system need to change,” Penny said. “We want the game to be called the right way. Why are we letting checking continue? This should be a moot point in girls’ hockey.

“We want the kids to be able to use their God-given abilities and to walk home at night.”

 

UPDATE (Jan. 20, 2012 - 6 p.m.): Jenna Privette was discharged from HCMC today and is heading to a rehabilitation facility.

 

Doug Johnson and Peter Knutson contributed to this report.

Has the game of girls' hockey become too physical? E-mail your thoughts to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Look in the January 26 edition of Let’s Play Hockey for more on this story and possible changes to girls’ hockey.

Jeremy Roenick meets with Jenna Privette at Hennepin County Medical Center on Jan. 20, 2012.