Registration opens this week for boys and girls hockey players seeking ice time during the delayed start to their high school seasons.
 
Initial interest is high for both the boys’ “bridge season” concept as well as the girls’ Xtended Prep League. Both mini-seasons, which run from late October to late November, offer multiple weeks of games and practices to engage players and keep them active.
 
Organizers are cautiously optimistic about actual registration turnout, which could look as different from the promising projections as a mouth guard and a shin guard.
 
On the boys’ side, Jon Ammerman, Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association president and Moorhead’s coach, said, “More than 30 teams have expressed interest. We’ve gotten a lot of maybes and about 50 that aren’t interested.”
 
Tim Morris, executive director of the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association and Lakeville South coach, said “We’ve got 70 teams who are interested in doing it. Some coaches have said they have 25 kids who want to play. For other coaches, it’s just a few. For me, I could have 10, or I could have 35.”
 
Ammerman will have none. Moorhead is one of the 50 boys’ programs to decline. Two themes have emerged with those programs opting out, Ammerman said, travel and player availability. The Spuds are struggling with the latter.
 
“We have a lot of guys playing in the Elite League and Tier I and they can’t come into this bridge season until they are done,” Ammerman said. “That’s most of our varsity. Plus, we have players who are involved in other fall sports. This bridge season was never intended to take away from fall sports or other hockey opportunities. We’re trying to fill in the gap for other kids.”
 
Both coaches associations sprang into action after the Oct. 1 decision by the Minnesota State High School League that moved the boys’ hockey season start date to Nov. 23, two weeks later than normal. Meanwhile, girls’ hockey got bumped to Nov. 30, five weeks later than it had been scheduled to begin before the coronavirus pandemic.
 
“People are excited about having something for kids to do, for sure,” Morris said.
 
Girls participating in the Xtended Prep League will pay $205. Costs for the boys’ bridge season start at $56 for USA Hockey registration plus varying local costs.
 
Quickly assembled stopgap leagues outside the MSHSL’s purview have raised questions. High school coaches are not permitted by league bylaws to coach their players in the offseason beyond the summer waiver period.
 
“People want to know, ‘Who’s going to run it? A booster club? A parent?’” Ammerman said. “We are trying to get the high school league to allow us the use of our coaches for this unprecedented situation. We haven’t been told no; we’ve basically been ignored.”
 
On a virtual meeting last week, league officials reminded school activities directors of the bylaw concerning undue influence on student-athletes. Hockey wasn’t specifically mentioned, but Ammerman and Morris are wary of lines being crossed.
 
“We’ve made it very clear in all our communication that this is optional,” Ammerman said. “The parents and others understand. They don’t want to put kids or programs in a tough situation.”

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