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More troubles for D-III hockey teams

January 26, 2012

Hockey writer Eric Benevides offers a few strong opinions on the new 15-minute periods that go into effect next year.

If the shaky futures of the Tolman and Woonsocket hockey teams didn’t need to receive any additional bad news, they indirectly got some at Monday night’s meeting of the R.I. Interscholastic League’s Principals’ Committee on Athletics in Providence.
Among the developments that transpired during this session was the matter of extending the periods in Division III, as well as girls’ hockey, from 12 to 15 minutes. This was put to a vote and narrowly (and surprisingly) approved by a 6-to-5 vote.
Of course, the increase in minutes is a two-year arrangement by the RIIL, but once those two years are up, will the Tigers’ and Villa Novans’ time on the ice, as well as a couple of other teams, be up as well?
As high school hockey fans well know, participation in the sport is down, and during the past few years, more and more teams struggling with numbers have kept their players on the ice by forming co-ops with other teams who found themselves in the same boat.
Right now, Warwick Vets, which has one win this season, is the state’s smallest team with an amazingly low 10 players. That’s down from the 16 the team began the season with. Tolman is next with 16 players, and that’s only because the Tigers added three juniors from the school’s baseball team to the roster last week to create some sorely-needed depth.
East Providence, which is a team that has long been strong in numbers, has 18 players on its roster, but dressed just 16 this year. And Woonsocket has skated 17 players, but more than half of the team entered this season with limited or no hockey experience.
Graduation won’t hit any of these schools hard after this year (Tolman and E.P. will each lose the most players with four), but what happens if their numbers don’t improve next winter? Tolman is already anticipating a second straight season with no freshmen joining its program!
Throwing in 15-minute periods is only to cripple these smaller teams, because that means that every team will certainly need to scrape up a somewhat productive third line that can handle a regular shift and an extra defenseman to help make up for those additional nine minutes a game.
And if some of these smaller teams are unsuccessful in doing this, you could be looking at an ugly brand of hockey that contains more injuries (notably to young, inexperienced players who may be “thrown into the fire”), double-digits blowouts, and chippy penalties from those teams who may continually be on the other end of those lopsided scores.
Every division in boys’ hockey should have a goal, and the goal for Division III should be to simply promote hockey among the many schools that can’t field a 20-player roster and would most likely take a pounding in Division II.
An intelligent way to do this would be to keep the 12-minute periods, because 15-minute periods will only give the league’s larger teams like the Johnston/North Providence co-op squad and Mount Hope (who ironically are 1-2 in the standings) a significant advantage by skating extra players and wearing down their smaller-sized opponents.
During the Division III playoffs, the periods are extended from 12 to 15 minutes, and as a result, it’s the deeper clubs who can toss more quality skaters on the ice that usually win. Johnston/North Providence captured the championship last year, and Mount Hope won it all the previous March.
That being said, the playoff periods should also be dropped to 12 minutes each. After all, what’s good for the regular season should also be good for the postseason. Why change the rules and favor the larger teams?
And speaking of JNP and Mount Hope, their time to move up to Division II should come next season. The goal of Division II should be to produce a competitive league for teams that consistently draw more than 20 players and skate three quality lines and four or five defensemen, but aren’t strong enough to hang with the ‘big boys’ in Division I.
Cranston East is another big fish in a small pond. Take those three schools out, bring in winless Ponaganset, which has just 18 players this season, and Narragansett (19 players) from Division II, and you have a nice nine-team league that will fetch everyone a good 16-game schedule – with 12-minute periods!
Why the six members of the committee favored the 15-minute periods is a mystery, and honestly, an idiotic decision. The RIIL’s mission on its web site is to promote attributes such as “fairness, honorable competition, activities that support healthy lifestyles” – do forcing Division III teams to play 15-minute periods support any of this?
The feeling here is that those six voters blindly approved of the longer periods, and if this is the case, they should do themselves a favor and go to Adelard Arena to attend tonight’s 9 p.m. game between Tolman and Woonsocket.
They should count the players on each blue line during the national anthem and watch all 36 minutes of the game, and then ask themselves if tacking on an extra nine minutes was really the right thing to do. Wonder how many would want to change their vote?
As for girls’ hockey, there are only four teams that can realistically skate three lines and four defensemen and survive the rigors of 15-minute periods – the three parochial schools (Mount St. Charles, Bay View, and La Salle) and the Burrilville/Ponaganset co-op team.
These four teams are obviously the cream of the crop in the state, and when they played 15-minute periods against each other last season, their level of play didn’t miss a beat.
The haves and have nots are crystal clear in girls’ hockey, and while those teams and the lesser-talented three-team co-op clubs (Warwick, South County, Cranston, and East Bay) dress the max players each night, you have the three individual public school teams (North Smithfield, Lincoln, and Smithfield) who are lucky to skate 14 players.
There has been some talk at North Smithfield earlier this season of forming a co-op team as early as next season. With the news of playing 15-minute periods rushing through the girls’ ranks, those talks may be picking up steam, and it might do the Sentinels and Lions good to quickly get in on them or possibly face a nightmarish 2012-13 season.

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