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When Chris Orchard asked around for the Toledo-area's best ice-skating instructor for children, he kept hearing the same name: Monica Jablonski.
A former figure skate dancer, Mrs. Jablonski, 71, of Springfield Township had taught the basics of skating to multiple generations of local youngsters since the mid-1970s.
Furthering the mystique for Mr. Orchard were the wall-mounted photos of her two professional hockey player sons at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania.
He gladly took the referral. Mrs. Jablonski's lessons proved so successful with three of Mr. Orchard's children, he soon signed himself up for a one-on-one refresher course.
"She straightened out in three lessons all the things I had learned wrong as a kid," said Mr. Orchard, 47, of Perrysburg. "She was just a fantastic coach and the most humble person in the world."
He was among the many friends, parents, and students startled to learn yesterday of the popular instructor's sudden death. Authorities said that Mrs. Jablonski drove off her driveway and into a small lake behind her Stone Oak subdivision home shortly before 7 p.m. Friday.
Her vehicle became completely submerged. Rescue crews from Springfield and Monclova townships pulled Mrs. Jablonski from the water about 45 minutes later. She was pronounced dead at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio.
The preliminary cause of death was drowning, said Dr. Maneesha Pandey, a Lucas County deputy coroner. Dr. Pandey said Saturday that results from toxicology tests and an accident scene investigation are pending.
Dr. Pandey said there were no initial signs of a heart attack.
Family members either could not be reached or declined to comment Saturday.
A native of British Columbia, Mrs. Jablonski once told how she first put on a pair of skates when she was 18 months old. At age 17 she joined the chorus line of the Ice Follies, touring the United States and Canada for several years.
She gave up professional skating to marry and raise a family. Her husband, Greg Jablonski, also Canadian-born, played professional hockey in the International Hockey League and starred on the Toledo Blades and Hornets teams. He retired at age 38 as team captain following the 1972-1973 season.
Mr. Jablonski later coached boys' hockey at Whitmer High School.
Mrs. Jablonski was mother to four sons: Bob, Dean, and twins Pat and Jeff Jablonski. The eldest, Bob, a high school hockey standout, died at age 17 of cancer.
Pat Jablonski went on to play for five teams in the NHL as goaltender from the late 1980s through the late 1990s. He played three more seasons in the IHL before finishing his career in the Swedish Elite League.
As a collegiate player Jeff Jablonski led Lake Superior State University to a national championship. He played minor pro hockey for a decade before ending his career with the Manchester Storm.
A friend, Teresa Meredith of Perrysburg, recalled how Mrs. Jablonski took great pride in all of her sons' accomplishments, on and off the ice, and kept track of their newspaper clippings.
"She never had anything unkind to say about anybody - ever. She was such a sweet lady," Mrs. Meredith said.
Mrs. Jablonski was the subject of a 1985 Blade article about her skating lessons. During the interview, she explained the central role of the ice rink to life in the Jablonski family.
"Skating is a fun sport, a sport for the whole family. Our family always has enjoyed it. Skating was the one thing none of us would ever have given up," she said.
"The pro scouts like Jeff's skating ability, but I remember when he was learning to skate and would get mad at me and say, 'You make skating look so easy. Why can't I skate like that?'"
Tom Crothers, a former manager of Tam-O-Shanter and the Ice House on Alexis Road, recalled Mrs. Jablonski as a beloved and much sought-after instructor.
"She taught legions of young folks, boys and girls, hockey folks, and recreational skaters and will be deeply missed by everybody," Mr. Crothers said. "Wherever there was a sheet of ice, Monica was to be found."
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