MHSAA Representative Council approves new hockey classification procedure

The Lapeer hockey co-op has been able to sustain itself and offer area high school hockey players the opportunity to play for a high school team. Here, Lapeer’s Liam Tibor takes control of the puck against Grand Blanc on Feb. 16. File Photo

EAST LANSING — The selection of a restructured classification procedure for ice hockey was one of the two most notable actions taken by the Michigan High School Representative Athletic Association during its annual Spring Meeting, May 1-2 in Gaylord.

The Spring Meeting of the 19-member legislative body of the Association’s more than 1,500 member schools is generally the busiest of its sessions each year. The Council considered 33 committee proposals and dealt with a variety of eligibility rule, postseason tournament and operational issues.

Michigan’s co-op hockey program makes up nearly half of all high school hockey programs in the state and with school enrollment numbers constantly in flux and the number of schools in each co-op also changing year to year, teams have long felt penalized by being placed up a division simply because of the enrollment numbers of the combined schools.

Hockey co-ops have saved hundreds of high school hockey programs over the past decade and the new classification procedure could help sustain those programs over the long haul.

The Council approved an Ice Hockey Committee proposal to continue classifying teams by enrollment, but with consideration to whether those teams are standalone (one school) or cooperative (multi-school) programs. Approximately half of MHSAA member hockey programs are cooperatives. Beginning with the 2022-23 season, standalone and cooperative programs will be ranked by enrollment but on separate lists, with the top one-third from each list put into Division 1, the second thirds into Division 2 and the lowest thirds into Division 3. This change is expected to rebalance the divisions; In the recent past, Division 1 has been made up mostly of cooperative programs because the combined enrollments of schools involved in co-ops pushed them to the top of the overall classification list for the sport. However, cooperatives generally have not derived an advantage by having more schools involved; Instead, cooperatives primarily have allowed schools to continue providing opportunities to athletes who wanted to play hockey when a school doesn’t have enough for a full team.

• Two more Council actions on Hockey Committee recommendations will affect MHSAA Tournament play in that sport. Beginning with the 2022-23 season, Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) will be used to seed the entire Regional round (which is the first round of postseason play in hockey; there is no District round). Also, teams will be reseeded prior to the start of the Semifinals by a seeding committee, with the top seed in each division then facing the No. 4 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing No. 3 in the other Semifinal.

As far as the future of high school hockey and its importance, at the Dec. 15 2021 MHSAA Virtual Meeting with its Ice Hockey Committee, discussions focused on not only the status of high school hockey co-ops, but what can be done to continue to provide programs at the high school level. The Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association reported on its findings and what it believes can be done, specifically (taken from the virtual meeting minutes):

A background with details and discussion on the number of cooperative programs and opt-up programs in MHSAA hockey was continued from previous year’s meeting. A subcommittee studied cooperative hockey programs and their impact upon high school hockey. This subcommittee consisted of committee members, Hayden, Jacques, Wright with assistance from MHSAA staff members. The subcommittee agreed that cooperative programs continue to be created by schools to allow students to play high school hockey, not create “super teams’ that dominate MHSAA tournaments. Data was discussed to show this point. The high number of cooperative programs, as well as high number of opt-ups, cause this to be a concern for high school hockey divisions and tournament structure. Both the cooperative program number as well as the opt-up number are the highest of any MHSAA sport the hockey restructuring subcommittee determined that hockey division realignment would be the best decision moving forward and developed a plan presented to the hockey committee. This hockey restricting plan divides standalone hockey schools into thirds along with cooperative programs to have three “equal” divisions after classification is completed in the spring of each school year. This unique way of determining hockey divisions was supported by the hockey committee and will be a proposal advanced to the Representative Council.

The Michigan High School Hockey Coaches Association reported on their efforts to promote and enhance high school hockey. The discussion then focused on a broader shared problem that may need a full complement of different governing bodies at the table to discuss the future of hockey, how high school hockey fits in the world of youth hockey in Michigan and how to continue to draw kids to the sport. The MHSAA will reach out to MAHA to start a conversation about how to work on the number problem that continues to hurt all levels of hockey in Michigan.

Committee discussion also focused on what “we” can do in the high school athletic world and the desire of the committee is to start a reach out to schools, their AD’s and coaches to focus on how high school hockey successful programs are coached, administered and stay connected to their school’s athletic program. This challenge is exacerbated by cooperative programs and who is responsible for different aspects of the hockey program. The MHSHCA along with the MHSAA will work on curriculum and a program to bring schools to help in this area. Both associations will use previous models of hockey education for schools and update this to best serve MHSAA hockey membership. This outreach program can then be presented for the Hockey committee’s determination on next best steps to present the material.

An extended conversation on officials’ shortages, officials/coaches’ relationships and working to improve this dynamic was discussed by the committee. It was determined that this topic deserved more time, and the committee felt an MHSAA-led discussion on officiating was necessary and needed. MHSAA staff will bring together leaders in high school hockey coaching, athletic directors and officials to discuss ways to improve both numbers and relationships in coaching and officiating high school hockey.

Sports Editor Lisa Paine contributed to this article.

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