The state of Minnesota hasn't been hit as hard economically as some other states, but times are still tough, and those economic problems could reach rinks in Minnesota. WCCO reported this weekend that the MSHSL board of directors is considering cutting the boy's high school hockey season by 20%, from 25 games to 20.
Minnesota high school hockey has a great tradition, and for the most part, has survived losing some of their top players to the USHL and NTDP, partly aided by the Upper Midwest Elite League, but a cut that big to their already sparse schedule could be disastrous.
AAA hockey is growing at the youth levels in the state of Minnesota. Type 'minnesota aaa hockey' into Google and on the first page, you get results for the homepages of the Minnesota Blades, Minnesota Magicians, Minnesota Rockets, Minnesota Stars, Red River Mud Sharks, and Minnesota Northern Wings; not to mention other AAA programs like the Minnesota Machine, Minnesota Flames, Minnesota Lightning, Minnesota Icemen, Jr. Wild, Minnesota Northern Storm and Team Easton. Most of these teams are forged in the spring and summer for a couple of tournaments here or there, but they provide a higher level of competition and depth than players would face in the winter with local teams. It seems like only a matter of time before players start eschewing their local hockey associations in favor of playing AAA hockey full-time.
Not that AAA hockey is without its faults, but Minnesota would have a leg up on the rest of the country with two of the bigger problems: cost and travel. With lots of available ice time and a deep talent base, it's not as necessary for teams to travel all around the country in search of competition.
If the state keeps making cuts to high school hockey, what is to stop the best players from opting out of playing high school altogether and playing in something like the Elite League throughout the winter? Again, the spectacle and history of the state tournament has huge drawing power for players, as does playing with the kids one grew up with, but between private schools and open enrollment, things seem to be heading away from that anyway. Both state champions last season were amalgamations of the top players from a number of different cities. The starting goalie for Warroad in the vaunted Warroad/Roseau game was a kid that had been cut by the Roseau HS team.
If that were to happen, it would be a real shame for the fans--two AAA all-star teams aren't going to draw 10,000 people on a weeknight the way Edina vs. Burnsville did last year--but it may be in the best interests of the players. Stats in high school hockey are practically meaningless since every player on a decent team seems to play at least a handful of blowout games where they could basically score as often as they want. I don't think high school hockey is a huge detriment, but with more quality players coming from non-traditional hockey areas, having Minnesotan players sharpen their skills against a higher level of competition wouldn't be a bad thing.
I think the bottom line is that there is a ton of demand to play hockey from players, and if the MSHSL can't meet that demand, players may start to look elsewhere.