North Dakota High School Hockey Still Needs A Two Class System
The big news all across the state yesterday was that the NDHSAA approved going to a 3-class system beginning next season (2023-2024).
According to Valley News Live, it will be based on enrollment and will be classified as AA, A & B.
From chatting with my basketball friends around the state, this will be a good thing and this will give the smaller schools around the state a chance to compete for a state title.
The same thing needs to be done with high school hockey if you want it to grow hockey like Minnesota.
As someone who's been involved with youth hockey in North Dakota for the last 15 years, I believe it's time for North Dakota to go to a two-class system for High School Hockey. "AA" "A" or "A" "B" it really doesn't matter what you call it.
North Dakota High School Football recently did the same thing a few years ago adding another class. After a few years of Class AA 11 man and Class A 11 man, I think most would agree it's been a success. It's given teams like Jamestown a chance to compete and win championships, which would never have happened if they were still playing with the likes of Bismarck Century or Legacy.
The time is NOW NDHSAA for hockey to add a class and do the very same thing.
As far as hockey goes this is something that has been brought up many times in the halls of rinks for as long as I can remember. Obvious advantages...Teams like Hazen, Devils Lake, Mayville, etc would actually have a chance to play in a state tournament.
You could also maybe entice a few club programs across the state to move up to high school varsity hockey like Watford City, Langdon, Crosby, etc. To me, this is a win for all. I understand hosting a state tournament with twice as many teams would not work in one city, with the exception of Grand Forks or maybe Fargo. You would then simply hold the tournaments in different cities, giving more economic benefits to the state. No different than what they are doing for Bantam or Pee Wee's in youth hockey every year.
The next advantage...6 point games are TERRIBLE for both teams. Beating somebody 12-0 hurts both programs.
Final advantage. You're only allowed 21 games per year. Having to waste 3 or 4 of those each year against "lesser" programs only hurts both programs. Especially teams in the west. If the west ever wants to get back on par with the east, you need to play better teams. Take away those games and you could schedule more games with the better teams in the east or higher programs in Minnesota.
Let's face it, we haven't had a team from the west beat a team from the east in several years in the North Dakota State Boys hockey tournament. Bismarck High as an example hasn't beaten an east team in over 4 years. You get better by playing better competition. Imagine if the Bismarck teams gave up their Hazen games and maybe a game or two from other lower-ranked west teams and played the likes of Moorhead or East Grand Forks every year. Yes, there would be growing pains at first. Eventually, our teams would start playing up to their competition. It would take a commitment from administrators all the way down to coaching staff to say the status quo isn't good enough anymore.
Something else the NDHSAA should consider is adding a couple more games each year. This is another complaint that is commonly echoed across the rinks. So many kids leave early for junior hockey because of this. Even increasing the games by two would be a start. This would only mean adding one extra week to the season. Most of these kids are used to playing 45-plus games a season in Bantams. Going from 21 to 23 games doesn't seem that monumental.
Matt Fetsch from the NDHSAA spoke with me on the phone a few years back and explained to me what needs to take place to move to a two-class system in boys' hockey.
The NDHSAA only meets every other year, much like our legislature in North Dakota. There would have to be a membership vote to change the Bi-Laws and make an amendment. Currently in North Dakota if you go to a two-class system, you must have at least 12 teams in each class. This was obviously done with football a few years back, so it could be amended for hockey. It would simply involve getting coaches, athletic directors, and decision-makers together and cutting some of that red tape.
If we truly want to grow hockey in North Dakota, give our kids a better chance to take the next step and compete with the rest of the country (especially in the west). Now is the time to move on this subject.
Here's how I could see teams falling into a two-class system for hockey.
If smaller schools like Dickinson and Williston wanted to move up they could. Much like what they do in Minnesota.
AA Boys Teams:
West-Bismarck High, Bismarck Legacy, Bismarck Century, Minot, Jamestown, & Mandan. (A second Minot high school team is coming)
East-Grand Forks Red River, Grand Forks Central, Fargo Davies, Fargo South, Fargo North, West Fargo, and West Fargo Sheyenne.
A Boys Teams: (one conference)
Mayville-Portland, Dickinson, Bottineau, Williston, Hazen-Beulah, Grafton, Devils Lake, Watford City, Crosby, and Langdon. (who knows who else you could get to move up to the high school level?) Maybe even Wahpeton would leave their Minnesota Independent section schedule if they could actually compete against North Dakota teams. After all, that's why they left.
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