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Grinding the ax

03/03/2018, 11:45pm CST
By Dan Bauer

Discussing some issues that involve hockey

In preparation for the many meetings to be held this weekend in Madison I thought I would get an early start on the important axes that need grinding.

HOCKEY’S DEATH PENALTY

In 1985 the WIAA instituted a rule that would disqualify an entire team from participation in the state tournament if that team received three game disqualification penalties over the course of their season.  To my knowledge no other sport is subject to a similar punishment.  High school hockey was in a very different place 33 years ago than it is today.  Perhaps most notable is that in 1985 there were significantly fewer ways to be disqualified from a game. 

Imagine if your job or perhaps your dream was inseparably attached to the behavior of someone else.  If a co-worker were arrested for stealing or domestic abuse and fired, that you would be fired with them.  Or if your teammate gets caught at a party with alcohol, everyone will be kicked off the team.  In both scenarios you have virtually no control over the actions of your co-worker or teammate.  You both are well aware of the rules and expectations, yet one of you elects not to follow them.  And for their transgression your job, your dream will also be sacrificed.

As a coach it is without question your job to demand discipline, respect and emotional control from your players.  When they slip up, you hold them accountable.  The level of respect you demonstrate for your opponents sends a strong message to your team.  I believe this is a big part of the solution here.  I have heard too many profanity filled pre-games from the other side of the locker room wall to know that respecting your opponent is not a universal tenet.  I also know that it is not unique to hockey.  Perhaps the penalty beyond the individual players being dismissed should impact the head coach.  But the truth of the matter is as a coach you ultimately cannot control your players in any given situation, especially those that occur in the “heat of the battle”. 

There have certainly been many embarrassing and dangerous situations that have occurred in nearly every WIAA sanctioned sport, yet hockey is the only one that a team can have their season ended by the misbehavior of a teenager.  If I have learned anything in my four decades as a coach it is that teenagers, and especially boys, are going to do dumb things.  It is in their DNA.  I am also a firm believer in the accountability that athletics teaches, but punishing an entire team for the poor judgement of one or two players just seems wrong.  As an extension of the educational process I expect a better solution.

In this day and age of videos and replays perhaps calls of this nature should be reviewed by the WIAA before the final judgement is made.  Consistency in officiating and the subjectivity of these calls also needs to be considered.  Virtually every penalty that involves player contact of any kind can be a minor, major or game disqualification.  I doubt that the intent and severity of every disqualification is the same.                                                                                                                                     I am not sure I have the answer, but hearing Tom Shafranski end the discussion every spring without thought or hesitation is not the response we should expect or accept from someone who is responsible for representing our sport.  It has been 33 years of a stiff arm to the face, is it time to at least open a sincere discussion. 

CO-OPS ARE HERE TO STAY

School administrators love the co-op model and the flexibility and financial savings it offers them in regard to offering any sport.  It is not going away - so could we please stop demonizing every co-op as an evil empire?  Judge their validity on the number of players, not the number or total enrollment of schools involved.   If you don’t have to co-op with other schools because you have enough players, then please stop whining and be proud that you have a program that can support itself.  And stop telling your players the state tournament is unreachable.  Trust me, virtually every player involved in a co-op situation would rather be driving to their own rink and playing with and in front of their classmates.  The miles traveled and sacrifices made to be a member of a co-op are significant and largely ignored by the co-op bashers.  These athletes deserve your respect, not your condemnation.

COMPETITIVE EQUITY

I am not sure when competitive equity became an actual thing, and only recently has it come to the forefront of WIAA athletics.  As long as open enrollment for athletic purposes is allowed and private schools can ostensibly recruit, that concept will remain a pipe dream.  Top players are now freely allowed to flock together much like the professional sports model.  Trying to assemble a state tournament caliber team has crushed the hometown loyalty that was once the pride of high school athletics.  Making it to the state tournament is now seen as a right that many want the WIAA to somehow guarantee.  Fairness should be a concern for referees, the rest of us should know we don’t all get dealt the same hand of cards.  And that the best hand doesn’t always win.

GENDER WARS

I fully understand that girl’s hockey is in its infancy and growing pains are expected.  However the inequities between boys and girls hockey are stark.  Girl’s practice times in most places are not on a par with the ice time provided to the boys.  If a boys and girl’s game are played on the same night in the same rink the girl’s always seem to play first.  A five o’clock girl’s game isn’t a problem, but I bet most boys coaches wouldn’t allow it.  It even reaches into the collegiate ranks where at UW-Eau Claire the women’s team had back-to-back 3:00pm playoff games last weekend while the men’s team played at 7. 

They may not seem like big issues, but together they send a consistent message to the female players that you are not quite as important as the boys.  Building confidence in female players is much more challenging than males and I am beginning to understand why.  And Title IX, while well intentioned, often serves to ramp up the animosity between the two genders.  In many cases after much bargaining and asking nicely the Title IX card has to be played to gain even modest equality.  Until archaic and sexist thinking are eliminated from youth hockey boards, rink managers, coaching directors and even college league commissioners, the growth of girl’s hockey will be stymied. 

EIGHT IS STILL EIGHT

The new state tournament format that will debut in 2020, two four team tournaments will do very little to change the annual participants.  Small private school powerhouses like USM, Notre Dame and Edgewood will only increase their trips to the state tournament.  While the path to Madison may be more attainable for a few small northern schools, the road for large schools just got a lot tougher.  So what have we really accomplished?    

For the WIAA to take the WHCA proposal, an 8 and 4 two class tournament, and completely change it, then pass it, just shows their lack of respect for those who care so deeply about the game.  If the recommendations of the Hockey Advisory Committee are going to be completely ignored, then why is there a committee?  It’s insulting.

Like an afternoon spent splitting a pile of wood with a newly sharpened axe, that felt good. 

See you in Madison!

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI.  You can contact him at drbauer13@gmail.com

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