Season of change for hockey teams

Lisa Paine — Sports Editor

Lisa Paine — Sports Editor

While the final games of the high school football and volleyball seasons continue to take place, high school hockey fans are gearing up for a season that brings many changes across the board, including several new co-ops.

In particular in the Flint Metro League, those changes are wide sweeping. On June 16, 2011, the Lapeer Community Schools Board of Education mandated that the Lapeer East and Lapeer West hockey teams form one co-op team for the upcoming season, and into the immediate future.

It’s well known that most high school teams co-op because of lack of numbers at one or more schools. For Lapeer, it was a matter of escaping a very sharp budget axe that could have put both teams off the ice indefinitely. That the schools can at least still have a season has many breathing a giant sigh of relief. Still a bone of contention, however, is the lack of buses for Saturday competitions for all sports. That will continue to hit the programs hard as they have to create ride shares for the teams for all away games on Saturday, or try to schedule all home games for Saturday. That’s not an easy feat and not likely to happen with so many teams calling the Polar Palace, Flint Iceland Arenas and Ice Mountain home ice. So it goes. Where the hockey players need to go, so go the parents and/or volunteer drivers to get the kids that don’t have driving privileges where they need to be.

The new-look Lapeer hockey team will be skippered by former West coach Brian Macdonald with West athletic director Mary Haslinger and East athletic director Sharon Miller sharing supervisory responsibilities. Both schools’ jerseys will be used during the season with one set for home games and one set for away contests. Both schools’ logos will be affixed to the jerseys.

Macdonald also continues to stress the positive, noting that if there are enough players interested, a JV program can be reinstated. His biggest relief was that the hockey program was saved altogether.

Lapeer isn’t the only program facing major changes, as Metro rivals and last year’s regional champs Swartz Creek will co-op with Clio because LakeVille opted out of the former co-op to form a new hockey team that also will use the

Polar Palace as home ice. Swartz

Creek will be the primary program skippered by coach John Badal.

LakeVille will be the primary for the new program that includes players coming from Dryden and North Branch, which have never had high school hockey program.

Also of note, the majority of the Metro League now skates as co-op programs with Fenton and Brandon as the only standalones. Linden co-ops with Lake Fenton and Durand, and Flint Kearsley and Holly skate as one. For the first time ever, Lapeer will vie for a title as one team. Gone will be the long-standing crosstown rivalry, with the entire community now supporting one hockey program. That’s not such a bad thing, either, some will say, considering some of the on- and off-ice contentious incidents at the coaching levels and with players, who last year came to brawls during a East vs West game. That was an unwanted black eye for both programs.

It’s certainly unprecedented for some of the teams, while others are quite familiar with the state’s co-op program and status. The Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Executive Committee meets once a month to approve co-op applications. Co-ops have to be under 3,500 students based on enrollment. From there, requirements have to be met.

“Once a team co-ops they have to go through a renewal process every two years,” explained Tom Rashid, Associate Director of the MHSAA and overseer of the coop programs. ” The teams have to indicate what the win/loss records were, how many kids tried out and how many were cut and that is all monitored in the renewal process.”

Rashid noted that currently Michigan has 50 co-op hockey programs and hockey is the leading co-op sport.

The good news is that high school hockey teams have options and they are being exercised to the benefit of everyone.

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