MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Max Jablonski was born older. His family has always known that to be true.
"He's 14, going on 42," says his mother, Leslie Jablonski.
But the paralysis of Max's big brother Jack in a hockey accident last December has put Max's maturity on display for everyone else to see.
Within hours of Jack's injury, Max was at his brother's side.
"First few days in the hospital, he didn't want to go home so Mike and I let him stay," says Leslie. "During the night when we were all exhausted, Max would sit by Jack's side so we could get some sleep."
And by Jack's side, Max remained - at the ready with a drink of water or to scratch an itch - as Jack began therapy.
When hockey rules were changed, Max spoke for the absent Jack at a press conference.
"He wants the game safe," said Max, dressed in a jacket and tie, glasses perched on his nose.
When Jack was released from the hospital, Max beamed for the cameras as he escorted Jack through a hospital lobby, before helping his brother into a waiting van.
State hockey tournament, Twins game, Vikings training camp, where Jack is seen publicly, so is Max.
"Prior to the accident I always wanted them to get along like that," says the boys' mother.
Jablonski family photos suggest an early bond: a three-year-old Jack with his eyes locked intently on his baby brother, hugs between little boys on family outings. But as anyone with children or siblings knows, family relationships evolve.
"They certainly were like brothers and would battle, and Jack wanted nothing to do with him, and go away squirt, and don't hang out with my friends," says Leslie, looking back.
Sometimes it takes some hard knocks to realize your best friend might just be the brother who is standing beside you.
"He's definitely been unbelievable," Jack says. "I don't know if I would have done the same for him if I was in the same situation. Just realizing what he's done to help me, it's amazing."
Not that the Jablonski boys won't still talk a little smack. At dinnertime in the family kitchen, insults fly easily - and sometimes punches.
"He got me yesterday with a backhand," smiles Max.
Leslie took the horseplay as welcome sign that things were getting closer to normal, while understanding the relationship between her sons has reached a much deeper level. From their family tragedy had grown respect.
"I don't know how anybody could go though that and still have a smile on his face," says Max. "He's done amazing things and continues to persevere."
Max knows he's a different person too. "I think it's changed me for the better," he says thoughtfully.
His parents say Max has been a willing caretaker, never complaining about added responsibilities, which early on included serving as Jack's social media director.
"I think before the injury, I was blocked from Facebook on his account, and all of a sudden I have his password," smiled the younger brother.
Leslie lowered her voice, before saying, "When Max was away this summer, Jack actually said he missed him, but 'don't ever tell him that.'"
Mike Jablonski, the boys' father, sits in a cold ice arena later that evening, watching Max practice with his team. He's asked to sum up the relationship between his boys.
"When things are tough you find the true quality of individuals and what they're made out of," he says.
As he speaks the words, it is unclear to which son he is referring. One gets the impression it is both.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)