Eden Prairie took on Blaine in last year's Class AA state tourney. While a state tournament is up in the air, the MSHSL adopted a start date of Dec. 21 for high school hockey, depending on if current Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. (Nick Wosika)
The start of the high school hockey season now hangs in the balance of Governor Tim Walz.
The Minnesota State High School League met Thursday to discuss the upcoming winter sports season and agreed to start the boys’ and girls’ high school hockey seasons on Dec. 21 with games beginning Jan. 4. But that depends on whether or not the current executive order by Governor Tim Walz pausing youth and high school activities is lifted or extended.
If lifted, teams will be able to hit the ice Dec. 21. High school teams have yet to practice or conduct tryouts, which typically take two weeks.
Hermantown Boys’ Head Coach Patrick Andrews said it was great news the MSHSL adopted a start date as early as Dec. 21.
“This is the most excited I’ve been since we got delayed back in October,” he said. “The fact the MSHSL is open to letting us start as soon as possible is great news. I wasn’t sure what they were going to do.”
Benilde-St. Margaret's Head Coach Ken Pauly said he also was glad to hear the news of a potential start date of Dec. 21. But he understands at the end of the day the decision will come down to Governor Walz, who has hinted at extending his current executive order through Christmas.
“I have people texting me saying congrats and that they’re excited. It's great to see the high school league supports a Dec. 21 start, but in the end they’re not the ultimate decision maker,” said Pauly.
Pauly said the having two weeks of ice time in December would go a long way in allowing coaches to hold tryouts and pick their teams and prepare for competition.
“Those two weeks are really important," he said. "At this point every week you get is precious.”
“Those first two weeks are huge,” he said. “Even without scrimmages, if we were able to practice for two weeks and start games in early January...that would be great.”
The MSHSL Board of Directors put together a Return To Participation Task Force to determine a path for the winter and spring sports seasons. They set three dates for potential start dates with Dec. 21 being the earliest. If the state shutdown on youth and high school sports is extended, the next start date will be pushed back to Jan. 4 or Jan. 18 for practices to begin. If the season were to begin Jan. 4 it would still allow schools to get 18 games in. A Jan. 18 start would reduce the number of games. Teams typically play 25 regular season games, which was reduced to 18 with the late start this fall that has now pushed into winter.
“We know that the state and our schools are facing extremely high case counts and that adjustments in the models may need to take place, and if so, we are ready to make those adjustments in our calendar,” said MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens. “Should the winter season restart get pushed later, we may see shorter seasons and fewer games.”
Andrews said being able to still play 18 regular season games would be a win for high school hockey.
“We already lost the seven games when we first got delayed so if we can still get those 18 games it would be huge for the validity of the season, the development of the players and also help keep the players fully engaged,” he said.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 92 Covid-19 deaths and 6,166 new infection on Thursday. The 92 deaths were the second most daily deaths since the pandemic started last March. Walz will likely make an announcement on the possible extension of the executive order in the week leading up to the Dec. 18 end date of the current order.
Another agenda item for the MSHSL board was to discuss winter state tournaments. However, a decision was not made as they will continue to explore options such as potential venues while keeping the discussion open. They were optimistic about being able to have a state tournament, but were unsure of the when and where. They did set an end date to the season on April 3, so if there is a state tournament it would likely be played March 31-April 3.
MSHSL media reporter John Millea said in a tweet that “possible winter/spring state tournaments are not likely to be the same as what we’re used to, so flexibility, understanding and patience are vital.”
Pauly was pleased to hear they were working towards a solution to host a state tournament.
“I like that they’re wanting a state tournament,” he said. “I believe there’s a commitment level there from the league and all of us believe a season without a state tournament is a loss.”
Because of so many unknowns due to Covid-19 things could change throughout the course of the season, Martens said flexibility will be critical.
“We need to remain flexible in the start of seasons and in carrying them to conclusion," he said.
Andrews said today’s news was positive for high school hockey.
“It’s been a roller coaster since this fall not knowing day to day what our season would look like,” he said. “There have been a lot of ups and downs. But today is as big of a peak as we’ve had.”