"It's hard to see the tears rolling down your son's face and not be able to do anything," she says. "What do I say when he asks, Why me? It has tested my faith. But the pastor at the hospital told me it's O.K. to be mad at God. I told Jack that. 'It's O.K. to be mad at God.'"
Jack has dark moments. Moments at night when he worries about his future. When he thinks about what he has lost. When he wakes up because of an itch he cannot scratch and he has to call for his mother to help him. But he seems incapable of anger. One of the first things he asked at the hospital, amidst the tears and anguish, was about the boy who hit him.
"He kept telling us, 'Call his dad,'" says Leslie. " 'Tell him I don't blame him.'" Like most hockey kids, they already know each other. They had skated together off-season. Jack asks him to visit, says Leslie, because "he wants to be sure he is O.K."
He isn't. Everyone is worried about him, including reporters who keep his name out of the press. His despair is overwhelming. If the Jablonskis could turn back time, they would, for both boys. "I don't blame him," says Leslie. When the boy came to visit Jack, she says, "I cried with him. He was playing the game we taught him to play."
"No one ever intends to injure someone," Jack says. "I don't want him to live on dwelling over this." Though Jack, too, chooses not to dwell on it, he remembers every detail of the impact, starting with the "jolting pain" that ran down his neck when the fifth and sixth vertebrae shattered. "The injury I had, it was a freak accident," he says. "That kid was doing the right thing. He played me the right way, and at the wrong time, I turned. In that area by the boards, there should be caution. But you can't be soft, or totally take away hitting, because that's not hockey."
At home, I read an e-mail from Blatherwick about a letter he is writing to Let's Play Hockey, a youth hockey newspaper. Blatherwick worked with Herb Brooks to train the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He has worked with the Rangers, the Devils and now, the Capitals. But his passion is the kids he has trained in Minneapolis for more than 20 years. All he wants is strict enforcement of the rule book.
Cheap hits have overtaken hard-to-teach skill as a shortcut to victory, he insists; boarding must be called every time. "Trust me, I am not trying to be cute with words," Blatherwick says. "I am too sick to my stomach whenever I leave the hospital after seeing Jabby. I get to my van and weep like a f---ing baby. But then I get fired up and lie awake, trying to clarify the direction we must take to change this game."
Across the city, we are all lying awake. Moms and dads, coaches, refs, association heads. When my eyes pop open at night, the words I have heard all week are stuck in my head. It was a fluke. It was an accident.
And this is what I think about: protons. At the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, the European Organization for Nuclear Research has created a system of tunnels more than 16 miles long in which physicists set two proton beams racing at each other from opposite directions at virtually the speed of light in order to watch them crash—and, they hope, to discover the meaning of the universe. Their protons are sent out in shifts, just like our boys, 110 billion or so at a time. It takes thousands of magnets to create a force field strong enough—more than 100,000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field—to direct the two tiny proton beams to a precise point where their paths meet head-on. Shift after shift, 110 billion protons from one direction race toward 110 billion coming from the opposite direction. How many per shift actually hit?