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.

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.