Portland rookie Keegan IversonWhen 16-year-old Keegan Iverson steps onto the ice for his first regular-season WHL game later this month, the Portland Winterhawks forward will become the first player in the 37-year history of the franchise to wear jersey No. 13.
Iverson wore 19 in limited action last season with the Winterhawks, but is making the switch this season to honor his longtime friend Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed during a Minnesota high school hockey game last December. Jablonski wore 13 as a junior varsity player at Benilde-St. Margaret's school in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis.
Iverson and Jablonski have known each other since they were 3 years old, and Iverson said last week he hopes to have Jablonski travel to see a Winterhawks game this season.
"He hasn't changed at all (since his injury)," Iverson said. "He's been my best friend and he always will be."
At 6-feet and 215 pounds, Iverson is listed as the heaviest player on the Portland roster. Self-described as a bit of a "troublemaker" at the Breck School near Minneapolis, he smiled and spoke softly as he discussed his connection with Jablonski.
"The last time I played hockey with Jack was pond hockey," he said. "Pond hockey is such a big thing growing up in Minnesota, and to have that be my last time playing with him is a good memory of us together."
Iverson is one of three 16-year-olds expected to crack the Portland roster this season -- all of whom are American. Of the 31 players still in camp with the Winterhawks, 12 are American. The team has certainly made an effort to identify and recruit American players, often without having to use bantam draft picks to acquire them.
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