The MIAA Ice Hockey Committee spent a significant amount of Wednesday’s virtual meeting weighing a multitude of rules change proposals, but it was a pair of votes specific to the sport that could make the biggest impact.
The committee once again threw its support behind 17-minute periods, and unanimously approved a recommendation that the two-year overtime pilot program become a permanent rule change.
Both the Ice Hockey Committee and Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association have pushed for the 17-minute period option several times in the past, most recently in the 2016-17 school year. On its surface, the proposal is to get the MIAA aligned with National Federation of High Schools rules that allow for 17-minute periods and two-minute minor penalties, the latter of which was passed by all MIAA committees in 2017. Massachusetts teams play 15-minute periods.
Framingham athletic director Paul Spear, a member of the Ice Hockey Committee, co-authored the proposal along with Marshfield boys' hockey coach Dan Connolly.
“There’s no mandate, it would just allow teams and leagues to play 17 minutes,” Spear said.
Arlington Catholic boys' hockey coach Dan Shine, reappointed as committee chair, said the endorsement would be “a welcome sign” to coaches in their quest to combat competition from prep schools and junior hockey programs for players.
“I think it makes sense to follow the rule book as best as we can,” Shine said.
The committee passed both rule proposals, 14-0, and they will move on through various other MIAA committees and, ultimately, the Board of Directors and Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Council. However, both of those groups overwhelmingly rejected the 17-minute periods proposal when it was last presented in 2017.
“Anything we can do to get our kids more engaged is beneficial to all of us,” said Winthrop AD Matt Serino, one of six new members of the Ice Hockey Committee.
The committee also unanimously approved a request by Everett athletic director Tammy Turner to move its boys' co-op with Mystic Valley from Division 2 to Division 3 for this upcoming season.
However, alignments in general continue to be a major issue for the Ice Hockey Committee as it tries to get on the same page with the Tournament Management Committee going forward for the statewide tournament beginning in Fall 2021.
The TMC has twice rejected previous proposals by the Ice Hockey Committee, whose subcommittee met both before and after Wednesday’s meeting in an effort to reach some sort of consensus in advance of the TMC’s scheduled meeting Thursday.
At issue is where many hockey schools would be placed based on the TMC’s strict alignment criteria for all sports. The subcommittee is trying to find the right balance of factors for co-op and urban schools. Wellesley AD John Brown said they also have a recommendation that would change the alignment of nearly 50 of the 195 boys' hockey programs for “health and safety reasons.”
“We’ve spent hours and hours trying to get this right,” Brown said.
Shine noted that following the strict criteria would put Pope Francis, one of the state’s hockey powers, in Division 4, as just one example. Schools can opt to automatically move up, but the Ice Hockey Committee is trying to assure that teams it believes should be placed lower than they would be dictated by enrollment can have the opportunity to appeal.
“If you do everything the way [Tournament Management Committee] wants to do it, it would turn hockey upside down,” Shine said. “We’re concerned about matchups that don’t belong, and kids getting hurt.”
A subcommittee also was formed to proactively look at any modifications that would allow ice hockey to be played in a potential Winter season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ice hockey currently is cleared for competition via guidance from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs — with no checking, proper distancing and other protocols. The MIAA expects updated guidance pertaining to high school sports once the EEA compiles data from the Fall I season.
“If these kids don’t play here, they’re going to go play somewhere else, and we’re not going to have any control over them,” Shine said, noting USA Hockey already has modifications in place, and the Coaches Association and tournament directors also have started to work on ideas.
Falmouth athletic director Kathleen Burke asked the committee to continue to look into co-ops, particularly as they pertain to girls' hockey, while also advocating for increased voices from girls' hockey in the makeup of the committee.