Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Way to Look at PeeWee A Hockey - October 20

This is part two of a pre-season preview of Minnesota’s PeeWee A hockey for this year.

By frederick61

District 9: Last year D9 allowed the Rochester Association’s top PeeWee team (the Red) to play an independent schedule and then D9 allowed the Red to come back into the district to be eligible to play for the state tourney. They were seeded #1 in D9 and proceeded to beat their D9 opponents handily and take the #1 seed to the South Regional where they were beaten soundly by Lakeville North 6-1 and Lakeville South 5-3 to end their season.

The Rochester Association has continued to seek dominance at the youth levels by placing all their best players on a single team and then working hard to get them the best competition. It has not paid off at the high school level. The association supports four high schools.

Last year, in Section 1AA, Rochester Century beat Rochester Mayo 4-3 in a quarterfinal game and then lost to Lakeville North 7-0. Rochester Marshall lost to Farmington 6-1. In Section 1A, Rochester Lourdes fared better beating St. Peter 11-0, Red Wing 4-2 and New Prague 2-0 to go to state. There, Lourdes lost to Hibbing 4-0, beat Alexandria 7-0 and lost to Breck 4-2.

When you have one top team that produces 12 kids or so a year and have to split the kids by four high schools, it is hard for each high school to compete. What is sad is that the Rochester has supported the association well, providing six sheets of indoor ice.

This past week, 80 or so Rochester PeeWee age kids tried out for traveling. D9 has decided the following: “League Structure Pertaining to Rochester Red Teams (2 – 2 point games or 1 – 4 point game): M/S/P to allow Rochester Red to play an independent schedule and be seeded by District Director for districts (Red Wing/Faribault).”

Rochester Association has decided the following: “PeeWees- PeeWee A Red -Metro team and PeeWee A Black - District team; PeeWee B Red and Black - Metro Teams and PeeWee B White - District team; PeeWee B2 Red, Black and White - District teams.”

The beat goes on. It appears that Rochester will enter one team in D9 called the Black which will have players ranked 15-30. Rochester will enter one team called the White in D9 PeeWee B which will have players ranked 60-75. They will have one PeeWee A Metro team (top 15 players) and two PeeWee B Metro teams (players ranked 31-60). This, they believe, will develop youth hockey in their area.

This year, Albert Lea will field two teams, an A and a B team, and will be fortunate if they have 25 players to choose from. The Rochester Red PeeWee A’s will most likely soundly beat Albert Lea this year at the PeeWee level. But equally likely, Albert Lea will most likely beat the Rochester High Schools this year in the Big 9 Conference – as the Tigers did last year.

This year, two D9 teams will play in the North Regional, along with three teams from D4 and D6. Most likely, D4 will surrender one or two of their seeds to either D6 or D9. Besides Albert Lea, Mankato and Northfield will be skating A level teams. Both teams had a good season last year with each winning a division crown. Northfield went on to make the South Regional and played well in pushing D8 teams before losing. Mankato came up a game short of the South Regional. Like Rochester Red, they lost to Lakeville South. Owatonna struggled early in the season and then put a nice win streak together that took them to the South Regional.

Dodge County also had some good play in season tourneys last year. They will be playing A level again this year. Austin appears to be fielding an A level team also. New Ulm and Faribault round out what should be a nine-team field this year.

In January, there is a chance to “re-district” with Minnesota Hockey. D9 should let Rochester go their way. Let them be an independent association. That is what they want. On the other hand, the Rochester Association could try and get the city fathers to pull up stakes and move the Rochester 50 miles north. Rosemount and Inver Grove Heights probably would object, but the U of M has some nice land that maybe available.

District 10: And the world of change never ends. In D10 this year, it appears the AA fever has hit. This year D10 will implement AA at the bantam level only. It will be interesting to watch how it works out. Last year at the bantam level, D10 had 8 A teams, 16 B1 teams, and 18 B2 teams. Now those teams will be split along AA/A, B1 and B2. Blaine is fielding one AA team with two B1 teams and one B2 team. Centennial is fielding one A team, one B1 team, and three B2 teams. Elk River is fielding one A team, two B1 teams and one B2 teams. That totals 13 teams (3 AA/A teams, 5 B1 teams, and 5 B2 teams). Last year these three associations fielded 12 bantam teams (3 A teams, 4 B1 teams, and 5 B2 teams).

D10 does not have a Bantam C league (only D2, D3, D5, D6, and D8 have Bantam C). The principle question, eventually, is will an Elk River or Blaine be permitted to have a AA, A, and B1 teams or will they only be able to field AA, B1 and B2 teams. It won’t happen initially, but could in the out years once the precedent is set. If the associations not skating bantam A today do not skate bantam A once this new level kicks in (and have to join the AA teams in a single D10 league), then the idea fails. That will take more than a one year trial period to figure out.

In either case, the intent of the new rule is to provide more opportunities at the A level for kids to participate in an A level tourney. The initial approach divides the A level teams into two tourneys. This will result in no impact to the Elk River, Centennial, and Blaine associations. Their three A teams will play AA or A and will have the opportunity to play in two tourneys. But their 22 B teams will play in one state tourney. That will be a problem.

This year, D10 will send two teams to the North Regional to join three teams from D11 and D12. Last year, Elk River peewee A team played a number of early season opponents outside of D10 and few D10 games. The Elks then strung a series of 20 D10 wins together to pull away from the field only to be almost caught by Centennial. They won the regular season championship by one point. Blaine and Rogers finished third and fourth. Blaine always has a strong physical team, Rogers program has been steadily improving.

Champlin Park, Anoka, Spring Lake Park, and Princeton rounded out the top 8 teams and made the D10 playoffs. The Elks swept the playoffs to take the #1 seed, but Centennial was upended by Blaine in the semifinals and eventually lost to Anoka in the game for the #3 seed. Blaine took the #2 seed. Elk River and Blaine made it to the state tourney.

Anoka had a good season but couldn’t get by White Bear Lake in the regionals. Spring Lake Park started well losing to Anoka in the finals of their own tourney in November. Champlin Park entered two tourneys late in the season and ended up playing Centennial three times in both tourneys. The Rebels lost. They played Centennial twice in D10 at the end of the year. They lost. Then they were eliminated in the D10 playoffs by Centennial. It was a quirky schedule the last month of the season for the Rebels.

Princeton came on strong at the end of the season, but fell short in the D10 playoffs losing to Champlin Park in overtime. They will not be fielding an A team this year.

Irondale in their first D10 season surprised everybody by leading the league for the first month. The Knights had a good year. Andover made the state two years ago, but failed to make the D10 playoffs last year. Coon Rapids played well in the Orono tourney in December and St. Francis had success in some year ending tourneys.

District 11: D11 covers the Duluth area. The D11 association’s field 5-6 peewee A teams each year joined by a Superior Peewee A team. This looks to be unchanged this year even though Cloquet, Duluth East, Hermantown, and Proctor will be joined by Duluth Denfield. It appears that the new “Hunters” are the formerly the Duluth Lakers? Duluth East is already to roll and will be playing D12 teams next week. Last year the Greyhounds had an up and down season and that ended with two straight loses to D2 teams in the East Regional (White Bear Lake and Tartan).

Hermantown came close to making the state tourney in the East Regional, beating Anoka and Blaine before losing 3-2 to Elk River in the championship game. Blaine then eliminated the Hawks in the #2 seed game 2-0 to end their season.

Cloquet showed some early season spark, won the D11 regular season title, but failed to make it out of the D11 playoffs. Duluth Denfield/Duluth Lakers had an off year after playing well the prior seasons. The Proctor Rails (no they are not named after the bird, but after the rails the iron ore trains ride on) are always the sentimental favorite. They played well at times. Last year, they hosted the Wisconsin Fire in their yearend tourney-the last tourney in which the now demised Fire team played.

This year D11 sends 3 teams to the North regional. They will be joined at the regional by 3 D12 teams and 2 D10 teams. That means there will be a lot of action between D10 and the Port City and Iron Range teams as the teams sort themselves out over the season.

District 12: D12 covers Grand Rapids and the Iron Range. That’s because the Rangers don’t acknowledge the Thunderhawks as “Rangers”. They never drove cars with red dirt caked on the sides.

But the Thunderhawks have been stealing all the “thunder” in D12 for the past few years. Last year, Grand Rapids went into a January funk at the Roseau tourney getting beat badly. They came back to sweep through the D12 playoffs, but their chances looked dim at the north regional especially after losing the opening game to Bemidji. The Thunderhawks came back to beat Bemidji to take the #2 seed to the state. At the state tourney, they pushed a great Farmington team to three overtimes before losing 3-2 in the opening round game.

D12 has one change this year; Eveleth-Gilbert has merged with Mesabi East. Greenway may not field an A team. If that happens, D12 would have 5 teams (Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Virginia, International Falls, and E-G/Mesabi East).

Hibbing struggled last year early on, but put it together at the years end to make it to the north regional also. At the regional, they surprised Thief River Falls 4-3 in the opening game, but lost the next two to end their season. Virginia squeaked by Mesabi East to make the regional, but ended up losing to Bemidji and Fergus Falls to end their season.

The real questions in D12 is “when’s that Nashwauk steel plant coming on line” or “how about the possible plants in the Aurora/Hoyt Lakes area”? Come on government regulators, the Range needs hockey players.

District 15: D15 went split personality last year when Moorhead went with two unbalanced A teams and then had their A2 Orange team forfeit their two D15 games to the A1 Black. What the A1 Black team forgot is that a forfeited game means that you also lose your “unfairplay” point. Add another forfeit late in the season to the Black win total and a potential late season forfeit and the Black’s D15 title was suddenly on the line. Not because they lost a D15 game, but because of forfeits. That also created a discussion on how the “unfairplay” point would work in a 4-point league game where two teams would play each other only once (D15 ruled that only one “unfairplay” point can be won thus turning the single game into a 5 point game). Such is youth hockey with too many adults.

Alexandria was the team that threatened the Moorhead Black. Unfortunately a late season loss cost them the opportunity to catch the Black. The Cardinals will host the State Tourney this year in the Runestone Community Center. The Center is named after the Kensington Runestone discovered in the Alexandria area over a 100 years ago.

Most people initially debunked the stone as a phony because they thought it had to be brought there by the Vikings. But recently new information has the Runestone being placed as marker by the Knights Templar who fled Europe after being ousted by the Catholic Church. They could have hidden the “chalice” in the Alexandria area. Maybe Dan Brown needs to write another book with Tom Hanks walking the streets of Alex. Alex has a Runestone Museum located at the tip of the….

D15 allows their associations a lot of flexibility in determining if they will field an A level team each year. In addition to the two Moorhead teams and Alex; Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, and Fergus Falls should field A teams. But after that, it is a guess. Little Falls, Park Rapids, Northern Lakes (Crosby and Pequot Lakes), Prairie Centre (Long Prairie and Sauk Centre), and Wadena have fielded A teams over the past 3 years.

In 2008, the Little Falls peewee A team made the state tourney. They sort came out of nowhere and just beat everybody up. Last year the bulk of that peewee team placed second in the Central Lakes Conference, winning 20 games, and they were the #1 seed in Section 6A. Little Falls has the best won/lost winning percentage in high school hockey over the last 5 years.

District 16: D16 covers the northwestern corner of the state. Over the past few years, D16 peewee A has been a two team race between East Grand Forks and Roseau with at least one (and sometimes both) making the state tourney. That left the other teams scrambling for the district’s #3 seed to the regional.

It changed last year. Bemidji and Thief River Falls dominated the league and the two teams took two seeds to the North Regional. East Grand Forks and Roseau had to scrap for the third seed. EGF won. The Prowlers eliminated EGF at the regionals, but neither TRF nor Bemidji could get by Grand Rapids. Bemidji played well all year and looked to be a state tourney entrant before being eliminated by Grand Rapids 3-2 in the North Regional game for the #2 seed.

Crookston played had some good games last year and proved to be tough. Warroad and Red Lake Falls round out the D16 league this year. This year, D16 team has only two seeds to the West Regional. So it will be a battle for one of those seeds especially since the West Regional looks so wide open. D15 and D5 will be sending three teams each.

One of the better Peewee A tourneys held every year is Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan Tourney. This year Bemidji, Crookston, and Roseau are entered. They will be joined by D5 top contenders last year, St. Cloud and STMA; and D15 perennial top contender, Brainerd. It should provide an interesting preview of the West Regional. Three weeks later, Roseau hosts their tourney and for the past few years have drawn the top teams in the state and pitted them against D16 teams. Roseau’s tourney should provide an interesting preview of the state tourney if they get the same teams they had last year.

November is almost here! So let’s play hockey.

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