Thursday, October 13, 2011

Another Way to Look at PeeWee A Hockey - October 13

By frederick61

It is tryout time this October. And it has been a warm and sunny month, making it harder to be inside the ice arena watching the process. But if a parent can’t watch their kid tryout, they can enjoy the colorful fall days.

This could be the last year of the current state tourney. The PeeWee level (A, B1, B2 and C) structure will change next year to AA, A, B and C. In January 2012, Minnesota Hockey will decide on how to change the PeeWee playoffs to AA, A, B and C. Some people think that there is some advantage to modeling the youth structure along the lines of the Minnesota High Schools, requiring an association in a AA high school area to play AA hockey; and allowing an association in a A high school area to play AA or A.

It would force the AA designated associations to take the same tryout process used for the 60 or so kids this year and use the same tryout process next year to designate 60 or so kids AA, A, B and C. The AA and A teams would play in the same league since there would not be enough teams to have two leagues per district. At some point in the year, someone would have to split the AA and A teams would into two tourneys. The suggested date would be July 2012.
Such foolishness. It is 11-12 year kids learning to play a sport. No thought has been given to what happens at the B level. With B level teams (B1, B and B2) being far more numerous than the 100 or so PeeWee AA/A teams, why not add a B level tourney to increase youth participation in the playoffs? The B1/B could be combined and the B2 (C?) combined for three tourneys. Currently, the B2/C levels have little in year-end playoffs. But maybe that makes too much sense.

This year the PeeWee A/B state tourney will be played at Alexandria. The host Cardinals have played well in the past few years. But Moorhead has proven tough in the D15 playoffs the past two years. The West Regional winners will come from D5, D15, and D16. Still it would be nice to see the Cardinals playing in the state on their home ice; it would pack their arena.

District 1: This was the old TC District a few years ago. As the level of interest inside the Twin Cities dropped, D1 has evolved to a Mite, Squirt and PeeWee C league where outdoor ice is used to help keep costs down. It acts as a feeder to the Minneapolis Storm, Highland Capitals, etc. The emphasis is on development, not traveling hockey. D1 has one nice tourney in January open to all C-level Squirt teams. It is hosted by Edgecombe and played outdoors in St. Paul.

District 2: Hudson, D2’s third-place finisher in 2010-11, is gone this year. They have returned to play Wisconsin Association Hockey. It looks like North St. Paul will field an A PeeWee team after a year’s absence. With Highland Park in the league, there will likely be nine D2 PeeWee A teams. D2 will send two teams to the East Region to play three D3 entries and three D8 entries.

D2 always produces a balanced set of teams. Last March, in the D2 playoffs, only one of the top three Minnesota teams in the regular season (Roseville, Stillwater, White Bear Lake) made it to the North Regionals. Cellar dweller Mahtomedi and an invisible Tartan team (hope they post their scores this year) upset Roseville and Stillwater to take two of D2’s three seeds.

Still, Roseville, Stillwater and White Bear Lake always place in the top 4 or 5 spots in D2’s regular season. But this is a tough league since all of the D2 teams have played in a regional tourney the past few years. Mahtomedi, Tartan, Forest Lake and Mounds View played some great PeeWee hockey at times last year. Highland Park, after being in the regionals three years running, had an off year. And so enter the Polars from North St. Paul. This is always a fun league to watch.

District 3: This district is to be admired. Three years ago, because of the disintegration of the high school Classic Lake Conference, D3 was losing associations. Their PeeWee A teams were down to six and dwindling. But they stepped up and made some interesting changes by first inviting the Minneapolis associations to play. That move added Washburn and Southwest/St. Louis Park (or Minneapolis Park) teams at the PeeWee A level.

Last year they added two D5 teams, Crow River and Mound Westonka to the D3 PeeWees and got a bonus when St. Louis Park fielded an A team. However, D3 lost two teams when Washburn combined with Minneapolis Park to form the Minneapolis Storm (Park stood for St. Louis Park) and North Metro did not field an A PeeWee team. The D3 PeeWee A league last year had nine teams, Wayzata, Osseo/Maple Grove, Minneapolis Storm, Crow River, St. Louis Park, Mound/Westonka, Orono, Armstrong Cooper and Hopkins. Without making changes, they would have had only five teams.

Before the changes, Wayzata, OMG and Hopkins dominated play. Two years ago, Wayzata and OMG dominated D3. Last year, it looked as though those two teams would dominate again. But as the D3 season closed, both Wayzata and OMG were being pushed by the Storm, Crow River and Armstrong/Cooper.

This year Wayzata is planning to field two balanced A teams this year. Balanced is the “operative” word here, meaning the top Wayzata players will be split evenly between the two teams, unlike what Rochester and Moorhead did last year. Rochester fielded three A teams, but put their top players on one team; Moorhead fielded two A teams and put their top players on one team. Then both Rochester and Moorhead set a season schedule where they would not have to play the other A team.

D3 should be a 10-team league this year. They will send three D3 teams to the East Regional to join two D2 teams and three D8 teams.

The general feeling this year is that with Wayzata having two balanced teams, D3 should be a more balanced league. But Wayzata’s association has been stable in the support they give their teams. That consistency has been one of the reasons all their teams (not just PeeWee A teams) play well. With strong support and good coaching, it would not be surprising to see two Wayzata teams playing for the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in the D3 playoffs in February.

District 4: As a result of D9 being formed, D4 went from being a 12-team PeeWee A league two years ago to a three-team no league last year. Only Luverne, Redwood Area and Marshall fielded teams. This year, Mason City, Iowa, is joining D4 to give them four teams, but a fifth would be nice. Sleepy Eye has combined with New Ulm the past years and likely to do the same this year. That leaves Fairmont, Windom and Worthington as candidates.

What is interesting about D4 is that this district’s associations make up the bulk of the Southwest high school conference (Morris is the only non-D4 high school in the conference). They share Section 3A with D5 teams from Litchfield, Hutchinson and New Ulm and have been only one or two games away from making the state tourney.

The D4 associations work hard to keep their youth costs down. It would be good to see one of their youth teams or one of the Southwest Conference high school teams make a run this year.

Luverne dominated D4 last year and was the sole D4 team in the regional tourney. The South Regional will be tough this year. D4 has three seeds to the South, but they have to play three D6 teams and two D9 teams. D9 and D6 should be courting D4 for an extra seed.

District 5: D5 changed going into last year. They lost two associations, Crow River and Mound/Westonka to D3, but gained St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, and Becker/Big Lake. That turned the regular D5 season into a two horse race between St. Cloud and STMA. The regular season championship was on line when the two teams met in the middle of January. St. Cloud won 2-1. The Knights had another shot at St. Cloud a month later. But they overlooked a tough River Lakes team at home and lost 2-1. That eliminated them from the championship.

D5 will send 3 teams to the West regional this year. Teams from D15 (3) and D16 (2) will join them.

D5 spawns more high school state tourney contenders than one would think. Litchfield, Hutchinson, Willmar, and Sartell all came within a goal of winning their sectionals last spring. St. Cloud divides into multiple high schools and those high schools did not fare as well with one exception. Last year, #9 seeded St. Cloud Apollo beat #1 seeded Little Falls in Section 6 by a score of 3-1 in what was the biggest upset at the A level last year.

This year D5 should have 10 peewee A teams in their league. There are a number of questions to be answered though. The top one is will St. Cloud and STMA dominate again. But another one is will the numbers remain high enough for the Willmars and Litchfields to field competitive teams? Will a Sartell, River Lakes, or a MALM emerge like STMA has to take on the field? Has Buffalo found its stride in the new D5 to dominate as they did three years ago?

A year ago at the Spring Lake Park tourney, kids from Sauk Rapids really showed a lot of poise by playing a good team concept in November. Will the Storm be returning enough players to step up? D5 is really an unknown at this point as to who will emerge as champ.

District 6: Among the 13 districts, D6 is the one most feared or most hated. Any D6 team playing in any tourney is going to take on extra pressure as teams outside D6 love to hang a D6 win on the schedule. It’s a badge of honor. This year, D6 will send 3 teams to the South Regional playing teams from D4 and D9. With D4 having 3 seeds, look for D6 or D9 to pick up extra seeds.

For the past three years, the D6 regular season has been like a cook following a recipe. In the opening months, Edina looks the world beater, Eden Prairie knocks around, Burnsville stays home and wins, and Minnetonka gets beat bad a couple of times (just enough to say the Skippers aren’t good this year). Prior Lake just grinds it out. Jefferson struggles, Shakopee has a good opening month and Kennedy surprises a few teams.

Then Thanksgiving and Christmas tourneys hit and after the first of the year, Burnsville is on top and threatening to run away with the title, Eden Prairie has surprised a few people including Edina, and the Hornets are good enough (but not good enough for most). It becomes a three way race and the Skippers are there threatening to upset the apple cart. Prior Lake keeps grinding away.

In early February, Burnsville is hanging on to the lead with now four teams snapping at their skates. Particularly hard on the Blaze are usually Minnetonka and Prior Lake. Eden Prairie and Edina dual in a year ending two game set and “wow”, Burnsville, Edina, and Eden Prairie finish 1-2-3 or 2-1-3 or 3-2-1. The Skippers fall and Prior Lake keeps grinding away.

Edina or Eden Prairie eliminates Burnsville in the regional and Edina makes it to the state tourney semifinals. The Hornets have won the state title the last two years. This is their “three-peat” year.

It would be nice to see a change to the recipe this year. Burnsville may have that opportunity. They host the South Peewee A/B regional this year. Perhaps Prior Lake can make that move also; they have played well on Burnsville’s home ice.

District 8: Last year D8 had a twelve team league. It should be a 13 team league this year with Cottage Grove fielding an A team. The only other change is this year South St. Paul will lead the co-op effort between Inver Grove Heights and South St. Paul. D8 will send 3 teams to the East regional to join teams from D3 (3) and D2 (2). This will be a tough regional tourney.

Last year two teams emerged to take the D8 laurels all the way to the state tourney final four. Rosemount lost to Wayzata in the semifinals 4-1 and Farmington lost a tough championship game to Edina 7-3 in front of a packed crowd at BIG.

Farmington looks to be tough again this year and should retain their outstanding defense. Rosemount’s last year’s peewee class (ended up contending for both Peewee A and B state titles) is gone. The Irish will be in a re-vamping mode. Woodbury finished in third in regular season play last year and looked like a lock to make it to the regionals. But Lakeville North surprised them and ended their season. The two Lakevilles (North and South) both made it to the regionals last year. South ended Eastview’s hopes in the D8 playoffs and look to provide the main the D8 competition for Farmington this year. South has a number of returning players and may have one of the best peewee players in the state.

Apple Valley and Eastview moved from D6 to D8 last year. Apple Valley struggled and Eastview played in the middle of the pack and came close to making the regionals. Johnson/Como will be fielding a team; their kids won an international tourney this summer. Cottage Grove has 60 or so kids trying out for their peewee A team (some of them maybe kids who go to East Ridge and skated Woodbury last year). Sibley (or West St. Paul) had a good year end run, but came up short against Eastview in the D8 playoffs. Hastings always starts slow because they usually select their team around November 1 or later. The two Lakevilles moved their tryouts back to mid-October this year.

D8 would appear to be wide open this year. Farmington and Lakeville South look to be in the top, but they appear to be teams of opposing strengths; Farmington defensive should be strong and Lakeville South’s offense should be strong. Lakeville North, Woodbury, Eastview and Cottage Grove could be in the mix.

D9-D16 will be covered in the next issue of Let’s Play Hockey.

A few months ago at Shattuck, they had a promotional event. A peewee kid from Owatonna made an 89 foot shot through a hole no larger than the puck. It was an amazing shot. He should have won a $50,000 prize. But the Nevada company insuring the promotion (the payee) refused to pay the kid because his twin brother who was outside playing should have taken the shot. The Nevada company generously donated $20,000 to Minnesota hockey instead of giving the price to the peewee kid. But the Nevadans learned a lesson, give a Minnesota peewee kid a stick and he will find a way to score.

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