The high school hockey season has begun in earnest for a majority of schools across the state.
Members of the MIAA Ice Hockey Committee were in consensus during Thursday’s virtual meeting that things are going well, for the most part, as players and teams adjust to the modifications during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some valid concerns remain regarding the protocols and how they are being handled and enforced.
As representatives from each of the MIAA’s nine statewide districts gave updates on the start of the season, the two biggest issues presented were spacing on team benches, and players having to arrive at venues already dressed for games or practices.
▪ The committee agreed to put together a memo in the coming days to send out to all hockey-playing schools, reinforcing and emphasizing some of the major guidelines to be followed for the remainder of the winter season.
The biggest concern heard by committee members is social distancing on the benches. In addition to the unique logistics of various rinks across the state – and how some have been better able than others to open up extra space around the benches – there also is concern that proper distancing still isn’t being enforced.
“Because all these games are on video, everybody’s seeing and looking across at the benches, and [teams are] jammed together,” Wellesley athletic director John Brown said. “So it’s just not a good look for hockey right now.”
Added Hull AD Scott Paine: “There’s such a vast difference in facilities and they’re all run so differently, that it’s hard for the coaches and the players to follow this rule at this facility, then they travel [to another rink] and it’s a totally different setup.”
Westford Academy dean of students Bob Ware, who chaired the subcommittee that worked on the COVID-19 modifications, said that “we knew the benches were going to be our No. 1 concern,” and that it is difficult when the schools don’t control the facilities.
Committee chair Dan Shine, the AD/boys’ hockey coach at Arlington Catholic, doubted that anyone was intentionally not following guidelines, but nonetheless they are challenging.
“Anyone who thinks this is going to be easy is not in the real world,” he said. “But I think, for the most part, people are trying.”
▪ With all locker rooms closed because of COVID-19 guidelines, players must enter no more than 15 minutes before the start of a game or practice, dressed in full gear minus skates and helmets. Most times, that means students are dressing in parking lots.
“I think it’s awful, and I think it’s unhealthy,” said Shine. “I wish we had a different alternative. I know people say they can dress at home, but kids can’t drive cars in full hockey uniforms. I don’t think that’s safe, as well.
All these kids dressing in the parking lot, at least to me, is not appropriate, it’s unhealthy. We may beat the COVID virus by dressing in the parking lot vs. a locker room, but we may have a lot of kids come down with pneumonia and relative issues.”
“We are where we are, and I guess we have to make it work. But all these kids dressing in the parking lot, at least to me, is not appropriate, it’s unhealthy. We may beat the COVID virus by dressing in the parking lot vs. a locker room, but we may have a lot of kids come down with pneumonia and relative issues.”
Super 8 future
▪ A pair of subcommittees also were formed to examine any potential format changes in preparation for the statewide tournament, which begins in 2021-22. One key topic of discussion will be the future of the Division 1A (aka, Super 8) tournament.
The MIAA Tournament Management Committee has tasked the ice hockey committee with determining whether the Super 8 should continue, in addition to the four statewide divisions beginning next year. But per TMC guidelines, for sake of consistency that potentially could mean a change to a single-elimination bracket as well as using power ratings to select and seed the field. The subcommittee also will consider whether a Super 8 should be established for girls’ hockey.
“This is kind of important, because what we put together and what we send to the TMC could reflect even other sports down the road that are considering 1A,” said Shine, noting that baseball is another sport that already uses the Super 8 format.
When the Super 8 first started in 1991, most games were held at the old Boston Garden as well as local college venues. In 2020, all games were played at either Stoneham Arena or Framingham’s Loring Arena.
“At one time when all the games were at the Garden, it was strictly a double-elimination tournament, we always played in college venues,” Shine said. “That’s all changed with the times we live in. Maybe 1A isn’t what it once was, maybe it’s not as important as it once was to people. I think it’s important to the coaches to have some input.”
Framingham AD Paul Spear agreed to help put together a survey through the Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association to gauge continued interest in the tournament, as well as opinions on format and venues.
“The dynamic has changed so dramatically,” said Spear, noting that blowouts between Catholic and public schools were frequent in early rounds before the Super 8 started. But now, he said, players leaving for prep schools and junior hockey has closed the talent gap. “You can see a public school win an outright state championship now.”
▪ The next committee meeting is scheduled for March 31, but MIAA deputy director Richard Pearson said they may need to arrange for another meeting before that date if any discussion is warranted on the 1A tournament options.
Jim Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.