Sunday, December 07, 2008

MN High School Hockey in Trouble?

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.


USAFA Bulldog said...

Great article Chris.

I hadn't thought of AAA hockey here in MN. Looking at the Showcase Hockey website, my first thought is that it's annoying how the team names are all "94 Knights" , "94 Thunder", "95 Thunder", and other such things. Yeah, I know they need to separate the age levels, but it's still annoying.

Second though was exactly what you talked about, you won't get the big crowds like you do with the MSHSL teams.

Third (and last thought for now) is like you were saying if the MSHSL doesn't provide what the players want they'll jump to the juniors, AAAA, or where they can.

It's the same way with the private schools. People can't stand them, but if the MSHSL doesn't enough to piss them off that would hurt the MSHSL quite a bit. The private schools could decide to form their own league, play 20 minute periods, and other such things, which would make the top notch players want to play there even more.

Anonymous said...

If the state of Minnesota decides to cut the schedule to 20 games. It will be interesting to see they allow individual schools to try to raise the money to continue the 26 game schedule. In the article the Thief River Falls coach, Tim Bergland, talked about this.

If they don't, it will mean the competitive death of high school hockey in Minnesota. Kids will go to elsewhere, be that AAA or USHL, to further their hockey careers. And that will be the end of a great tradition.

Anonymous said...

The fact that high school hockey is in trouble in Minny is troubling to say the least.

Things have changed since my kid played not too long ago. AAA teams were reserved for summer and you played high school hockey because that was where the best players and teams were. The gold program was also there for those not quite skilled enough for Varsity (is that still around).

I thought that Minny had created an "elite league" where the best players played a pre-season schedule against top AAA level programs (the idea being that the top high school players would be heavily scouted but would still opt to play for their local high school during the regular season).

Part of the problem is the other Elite League (MWEL) which has the best AAA teams in the midwest (i.e. Honeybaked, Belle Tire, Shattuck, etc.)participating. Easier & more economical for college and junior coaches to attend one of the MWEL showcase weekends than to have to attend a bunch of high school games.

The fact of the matter is that there simply are not enough true AAA level players to have both a ultra competitive high school league and AAA travel teams. You get few dominant AAA teams that are 4 lines deep and then you get the rest of the AAA teams with a handful of AAA level players and the rest are AA or even A level that are full-pay. This AAA situation basically ruined high school hockey in Illinois and it appears the same situation may be unfolding in Minny. Sad.

Anonymous said...





this is what makes blogs a joke

IHF said...

interesting stuff, Chris. I this what happened to a certain extent to high school hockey in Michigan? It seems like years since an elite player in Michigan played hockey for a high school kid. It seeems to be basically a club sport for those who can afford it, but have skills far short of being able to play in the USHL, or AAA type organizations

Anonymous said...

Maybe if Miny-soda had not gotten themselves into a multi-bilion dollar deficit, they would not have to be cutting money from precious high school hockey...get a life.