All levels of boys’ hockey play for something at the end of the season with the exception of junior varsity hockey. Junior varsity seasons end when the varsity regular season ends and the varsity teams move into sectional play. Additionally, varsity teams that lose in their first section game finish with 26 games while the season still has 2 1/2 weeks of hockey eligibility.
What this means to many 15- to 16-year-old JV players is that they move from 60-game seasons over 6 1/2 months in youth hockey to 24 meaningless games in high school for one or two years until they either make the varsity roster, move on to recreational hockey or quit.
The Long-Term Athlete Development Model identifies this age group as a critical transitional phase from youth hockey skill development to the learn to play the game phase, and yet in Minnesota high school hockey, we seemingly miss the mark in this regard.
The high school hockey season ends with the boys’ state tournament in early March, although only 16 teams earn the right to play that long. Most teams are done in the middle of February, depending on their varsity playoff schedule and success. The JV team, however, is done after the last varsity game the second week of February.
Here are a couple of ideas for consideration:
1. Invitational JV tournaments the last weekend of February each year. Maybe they could be arranged with two conferences together so players see new competition. This also provides for two more weeks of practice, and if run like youth hockey double elimination format, 2-5 more games per team.
2. Varsity invitational tournaments for teams that lose in the first round of sectionals and separate tournaments for teams that lose in the second round. Again, another week of practice and the opportunity to play 2-5 more games per team.
All sports are evolving how they operate and are focused on providing the best development opportunities and player experiences. Increasing the opportunities and enhancing the experiences for all players should be our goal with high school hockey during the authorized season.
For more from longtime coach Hal Tearse, go to mminnesotahockey.blogspot.com.