Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.
Another WIAA state hockey tournament has come and gone. With a couple of weeks to process the three day event I have compiled my list of what went right, what went wrong and what I still don’t understand.
GOOD: The distinct possibility that this was the last tournament to be held at the Alliant Energy Center, aka “The Coliseum”. Once the raucous and prized home of the Badgers, dreaded by opponents, it is a building that has not aged well. It will forever hold many great memories for a lot of people, but the time has come for it to be just that, a fond memory. On a side note, hats off to the WIAA for the between period contests with fans as a nice attempt to weave some fun into the tournament atmosphere.
BAD: A four team Division One boy’s bracket was a crime. The number of outstanding teams in Division One that stayed home was embarrassing. I love upsets, and am for those underdogs to get to the state tournament, but the quality of teams missing was significant. Fans got cheated this year, even if nobody else was going to beat Hudson. Nothing grows a program faster than a trip to the state tournament. We need eight teams there in Division One. Somebody please do the math.
WHAT? I have heard the WIAA’s rationale for listing teams by their lead co-op school’s name, but find it to be absolutely silly. It is confusing to the casual fans who are completely baffled because at no time during the season are teams introduced or identified by their lead school. We establish co-op identities to bring all of our players together under a single unifying name and logo. Then at state the banners highlight only one school. They put the Storm, Fox Cities and Metro Lynx logos on the front of the state tournament program and the names inside the program; now let’s get them on the banners and the scoreboard.
GREAT: The Hudson Raiders put on a dominating performance, highlighted by their suffocating semi-final win over USM. Following in Superior’s footsteps, Hudson is taking full advantage of their proximity to Minnesota in building their program into a force here in Wisconsin. With four titles in six years they have moved into the dynasty category. Only Superior and Madison Memorial, who each won four titles in a five year window, have achieved a similar period of supremacy.
AWFUL: The inability of WAHA and the WIAA to get out a calendar and find a way to avoid scheduling Tier I playoffs on the same weekend as the state tournament. The reality that we had girls on our team having to rush off after winning a state championship because they had a game later that day is absurd and irresponsible scheduling. Both organizations should be ashamed of putting players in that position. A once in a lifetime experience of riding home on the bus with your teammates as state champions, then escorted into town by a dozen fire engines and police cars and finally being welcomed back by parents and fans, is not something these girls should have to miss. It is past time for a clear separation of pre-post team responsibilities from the WIAA season. It is equally insane that these teams play games on Sunday, the day before the WIAA season starts.
WHY? No Friday night games! For the life of me I cannot understand why we would only play two games on Friday and they would start at ten in the morning. Some would argue that Division One games are the marquee of the weekend. Hard to believe anyone thought that morning hockey on a weekday would help attendance. I am certain the Advisory Committee did not lobby for that time slot. It is another example of the WIAA imposing their agenda on us, despite the recommendations of the coaches. Ditto on the awful decision to continue to schedule a mid-morning D2 championship game!
NEW HOPE: WIAA hockey tournament director LeVar Ridgeway’s calm, open and non-confrontational presence at the WHCA coaches meeting. The new WIAA hockey liaison did not shame us with checking-from-behind statistics or player/coach ejections or regurgitate any magic numbers of teams needed to change formats. He asked openly for input relative to potentially new venue for the state tournament and seemed receptive to potential change. I think most coaches left the meeting encouraged rather than frustrated and enraged as in the past. With the Advisory Committee meeting just around the corner there is hope for some meaningful dialogue and progress toward change.
CHANGE: With the new venue a distinct possibility, it is time for the girls and boys state tournament to split apart. The cross-over of fans is not significant enough to warrant the combined tournament to continue. Keeping the two tournaments together blocks the boy’s path from achieving an eight team D1 and four team D2 tournament format. Holding the girl’s tournament in the same city as perhaps the WAHA girl’s U-14 tournament would be a great way to generate more interest and attendance. However, once again that would require a level of cooperation between the WIAA and WAHA that seems to be impossible to achieve.
WHERE? The potential landing spots for a new state tournament venue are limited. The often mentioned Resch Center and La Crosse Center are not viable options. The Resch has said it simply cannot host it due to current tenant contracts and the La Crosse Center does not have in-house ice making capabilities. The front runners, in no particular order, appear to be:
1-UW-Panther Arena in Milwaukee. UWM basketball and Admirals hockey have priority and the covering of alcohol related signage isn’t feasible. The WIAA would have to literally look the other way regarding the signage issue. The Admirals would likely need to play on Friday or Saturday night, so holding boys and girls together would be complicated. However, LeVar Ridgeway has strong ties there, has already toured the facility and Admirals owner Harris Turer is a strong advocate for high school hockey. Seating capacity at 8,910, is way more than is needed.
2-LaBahn Arena, Madison. Badger women’s hockey is priority one and the availability of lockerooms is an issue. The WIAA has inquired about the facility and when contacted, LaBahn seems willing to at least explore this possibility. If obstacles can be hurdled, this would be the ideal venue. The 2,273 seating capacity would create a real demand for tickets. In my mind this arena should be at the top of the wish list.
3-Capital Ice Center, Madison. The WIAA has also explored this venue. The Madison Capitals of the USHL would be the key tenant to schedule around. With seating at 2,600 and suites available, this could be the sleeper of this small list. Again this small venue would put tickets at a premium and also keep the tournament in Madison.
4-Cornerstone Community Center, Green Bay. Home of the St. Norbert’s men’s and women’s program, the seating is 1,674, with a max of about 2,000 with standing room added. Those numbers probably put this venue right on the edge of minimum desired seating. The city of Green Bay would be a great host.
I am certain there are other rinks that could come close to meeting the desired criteria to be considered. It would be hard to imagine selecting a venue with a seating capacity under 2,000. Arena’s like KB Willett, Hunt in River Falls and Hobbs fall short of that capacity. Nobody has told me that 2,000 is the bench mark, but I feel it probably should be.
AWESOME: No disrespect intended to St. Mary’s Springs, but the “fake Michigan” Rice Lake pulled off in the championship game will live on forever in state tournament lore. The set-up in games prior, the flawless execution and the result, a game winning goal, make this one of the greatest plays in state tournament history. Kudos to head coach Josh Engel and his staff for creating this unforgettable moment.
BAD TV: The amount of influence television coverage is having over the tournament is troubling. It plays a part in the possible venues, the time of day for the championship games and now has forced a change in the way we play overtime. I am sure most of this is driven by the revenue it produces, but the value of it being on the “Magic in March” Wisconsin based stations isn’t near what it used to be. With WIAA-TV and NFHS Network streaming the games, the viewership demographics have changed dramatically. It is time for television to stop driving the agenda. The state-wide broadcast was underwhelming with many mispronunciations of names, few team statistical details and the previously mentioned confusion as to what to call the Storm… DC, DCE, Everest co-op, CW co-op, DC Storm, Evergreens and other combinations I have since blocked out.
SIMPLE MATH? Math has never been my favorite subject, but for the life of me I still cannot understand the WIAA formula. Prior to the compulsory WIAA four and four boy’s tournament, the WIAA proposed a 4-4-4 three division boy’s state tournament. The WHCA and Advisory Committee asked for an 8-4 tournament. Conventional math says either format brings twelve teams to state. So I will ask again, why was the 8-4 not adopted? Wrestling, softball and girls’ volleyball all bring eight D1 teams to state and four in the other divisions. So there is precedent. If the obstacle is including the girls’ tournament, then move it to a different weekend, there is much support for that. Basketball, softball/baseball and wrestling have different venues and weekends, so again there is precedent. Girl’s golf has 160 teams, but brings twelve D1 and six D2 teams to state. You don’t need to be an analyst to conclude that consistency among WIAA state tournaments does not exist despite their talking points. Adopting a do what is in the best interest of the sport philosophy would seem to be the right solution. Creating a second division in hockey has been a win, but at the expense of eliminating deserving D1 teams to Madison. Somebody please tell them that 8 + 4 = 12!
VERY GOOD: I know there were and currently are longer state championship droughts than my thirty-two years. While it may have gotten lost in last year’s Covid crisis, for the second year in a row Steve Kirley was part of a state championship team as an assistant coach with the Hudson Raiders. After thirty years and 361 wins in Hayward and countless contributions to Wisconsin hockey I couldn’t have been happier to see him win his second title. Still giving back to the game at Hudson and with the Wisconsin Selects he deserves this as much as anyone I know. I feel fortunate that my daughter Emily has a chance to learn from him with the Selects team. Congrats to Coach Kirley!
FIX IT: Having two separate ceremonies to recognize the state’s best players is a bad idea that needs to end. Time for Wis Prep and the WHCA to work together on these awards and present all of them at the Coaches Association banquets held in Madison. Asking players to attend two different events on two separate days is unnecessary and inconvenient. It is in the best interest of all involved and consistent with my cooperation theme, to get this done.
WHAT? No walk up ticket sales? Too cost prohibitive to have a couple people selling tickets? Encouraging and maybe discounting digital tickets is fine, but do we really have to eliminate on site ticket sales? Are that many trees really being sacrificed? And no commemorative pucks, disappointing?
Disclaimer—Just one man’s opinion here… enjoy your summer!
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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