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McGair: Late high school hockey games affect more than just media members

December 16, 2012

Tolman High's 9:30 p.m. game against Ponaganset High on Friday at Lynch Arena was just one of a handful of late hockey games that took place this weekend.

For those in the sports’ media business, there’s no beating around the bush – reporting Rhode Island high school hockey is always a game of catch-up.
Translation: Game takes place late Friday night; game doesn’t hit the newspaper pages until Sunday. Such a cycle repeats Saturday with Monday’s edition representing the earliest chance to get something on the record.
Yes, we live in a digital age of instantaneous information, yet if there’s no surefire way to promptly receive such coveted information as how many goals and saves there were, then the results are old news by the time they are reported in area newspapers.
There are a few exceptions. Thanks to the dedicated scorekeeping efforts of Pam Paige at Adelard Arena and Lou Mandeville likewise at Levy Rink, the contests that take place at those particular venues are denoted and e-mailed to the press shortly after the final siren.
As far as the state’s other ice locales are concerned, if there’s not a reporter or film crew on sight, you might want to hold tight because it might be a while before those scores surface.
Interscholastic hockey has always been on the short end of the coverage “stick” regarding post-9 p.m. start times. Newspaper and television folks have stringent deadlines, which prevent timely reporting of those late faceoffs.
Going a step further, many of the state’s marquee matchups begin at nine. It’s understood that for attendance purposes, Hendricken at Mount St. Charles receives the time slot opposite of a “lesser” attraction. If the Hawks and Mounties played at 7:30 as opposed to 9 o’clock, you run the risk of the contest waiting in the on-deck circle being devoid of any sort of atmosphere, given that those who venture to see the clash of the titans generally don’t stick around for the real late nightcap.
See McGAIR, page C3
Hendricken-MSC at nine might be a win-win for the box office, but it’s also a losing proposition for those in the time-sensitive business of gathering facts and presenting them in print or visual form.
***
To this observer, the underlying reason why hockey results taste more stale than fresh stems from the vast majority of games taking place on Friday and Saturday nights. All the games are shoehorned into those two days because that’s the block of time rink officials set aside and present to the R.I. Interscholastic League.
In turn, the league has little choice but to work within what are tightly confined parameters; hence, why you’ll see tripleheaders like the one that took place Friday, Dec. 7 at Levy Rink, or unsavory times like the ones that appeared on this past Friday night’s two-game card at Lynch Arena – 8 p.m. for the St. Raphael co-op team versus Lincoln followed by Ponaganset-Tolman at 9:30.
“When we send out what we call our rink availability dates, we list each day in the month,” explained George Egan, the director of interscholastic boys and girls hockey. “We do indicate that our favorite time is 7:30 and 9 o’clock on the weekends, but we also say that due to complexities such as the minimum number of rinks, if you have any dates during the week, please indicate on the form.
“(Rink officials) do that, but they stay pretty close to the weekends,” Egan added.
Added Tom Mezzanotte, executive director of the RIIL, “We would love to get better times.”
Which brings us to a couple of possible solutions – spread out the games throughout the week, a la Massachusetts, or feature a Saturday afternoon card. The suggestion isn’t to hold doubleheaders on a weekday, but why not reserve the ice for one game per night on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and have it take place at a reasonable time? That way, you could eliminate some of those deadline-unfriendly 9 p.m. contests.
Certainly parents and rink officials would welcome such a change of pace – walking out of the arena at a more reasonable hour. Not to mention reporters might actually have a legit shot at writing a story that doesn’t appear two or three days after the fact!
As Egan pointed out, many of the rinks are booked solid throughout the week with youth and adult leagues; hence, why Fridays and Saturdays are the only days available. There’s also the contract in place with on-ice officials, which stipulates that they get assigned two games. If officials work a weekday game, you would have to make it up to them later on.
“There are a lot of idiosyncrasies to consider,” says Egan. “If we played games on a Sunday, we would run into one of the rules where you can’t play three days in a row. Playing four games in a week isn’t acceptable, either. We’ve only got so much ice time.”
To Mandeville, there represents a remedy to make hockey a more media-friendly endeavor. “The schedules could be adjusted,” notes the Woonsocket native and WOON (1240 AM) talk show host. “You could have a youth league game on a Friday night, too.”
***
Hearing the media express frustration over R.I. high-school hockey dropping the puck at near-impossible coverage times is something Egan has heard on more than one occasion. In fact, the longtime Coventry High hockey coach has seen plenty of print reporters come for the 7:30 game at Adelard Arena and leave just as the 9 p.m. tilt gets under way.
Told of the yeoman’s work done by Paige and Mandeville and how it would benefit the press to have a media liaison stationed at all of the state’s rinks, Mezzanotte took it as a good suggestion. Having a person perform the thankless task that Paige and Mandeville already do would help in facilitating more immediate coverage, but the issue of late starts still remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
Until some sort of tweaking to the schedule is done, expect to see more delayed reporting for a sport that leaves little choice but for the media to catch-up after the fact.

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