Hockey in NH has weak points
Thursday, March 14, 2013
It was the showcase week for the sport of New Hampshire high school hockey, and in some ways, it lived up to that front line billing.
In other cases, one wonders if the week might have shown a hint of what’s wrong with it.
The sport is losing its best players to other programs – prep school, juniors – at what in some cases seems like an alarming rate. The reason being is the lack of competition. There are too many mismatches in some cases.
Hockey is known for being the sport where anyone can beat anyone at any given time, because the puck slides fast and takes weird bounces on the ice.
But in New Hampshire, it needs a little bit more help. This year bore out that fact. There are too many mismatched co-op teams (Pembroke and Campbell), not enough help for the teams that are mired in losing (Nashua South), and one incredible imbalance (Berlin in Division III).
Souhegan and Hollis Brookline played in a Division III quarterfinal at Nashua’s Conway Arena. The best news was the winner didn’t have to deal with Berlin in the semis.
Berlin should not be in Division III, period. The school dropped down to where its enrollment fit, will be there for a two-year cycle, and there was no dropping down two divisions and then moving up one. The Mountaineers probably belong, talent-wise, in Division II.
But Berlin’s numbers were low last year, and it was placed where its enrollment said it should be. Division III needed help with a plethora of teams moving up to Division II, so it made sense. Problem is, they have a player, junior Connor Jewett, whom no one, and that means no one, in Division III can touch. He has 88 points, which is absurd, really, because it’s not like he’s the second coming of Gretzky. He’s just a solid hockey player who is bigger than players in his league. In some games, opposing players have simply skated out of his way rather than try to body him away from the puck. His point total is inflated thanks to games where he’s scored five or more against the real weak sisters.
“He would’ve been one of the better players in Division I,” Bishop Guertin head coach Gary Bishop said. “Absolutely.”
This is what happens when you have a team drop down two divisions. The numbers may say it’s OK, and if you look at the numbers on Berlin’s bench, they’ve been equivalent with teams like Souhegan and HB, and all the other larger Division III schools. Heck, by enrollment, Division III is where it’s supposed to be, so they were technically always petitioning up to Division I. Bishop’s Cardinals technically should be in Division II, too.
But hockey is a combination of talent, experience, and numbers. Berlin’s players are far more entrenched in the game than most if not all of Division III’s weak sisters. And now Jewett really has to make the move to junior hockey or a prep school if he wants to improve his play. The lack of competition is actually hurting, not helping, him.
The ironic case is Alvirne. The Broncos moved to Division III from II, following in the footsteps of what Souhegan did several years ago. It worked, just as it did for the Sabers, as they went from Division II also-rans to instant contenders, and were one overtime goal away from winning a state championship in 2012.
It was a two-year move, and when Bronco school officials made it, they basically hinted that’s all it would be. Now this year, back up in Division II, Alvirne struggled again. But it seemed to be a timing issue more than a numbers one; the Broncos simply didn’t have the talent. That’s the deal. If Alvirne continues to struggle, it’s time to allow the Campbell kids to bond with the Broncos rather than go up to Pembroke.
“It’s all based on size of school now,” Bishop said. “You can opt up, but you can’t opt down. Nashua South, with all the bodies they’ve got, they (the NHIAA) won’t let them go to (Division) II. They’ve almost got to restructure what they’re thinking about. Maybe it’s time to put a little more (emphasis on) the talent pools. Their argument (the NHIAA’s) is different years, different schools have different amounts of players. But now with all the kids going to juniors...”
Nashua South should be in Division II, where it still may not win, but it would win a little bit more and be more competitive. What about the size of the school? Well, the students don’t all skate to class, do they? That’s what is forgotten about hockey. It’s not for everyone.
And everyone is not created equal.
“Right now, the difference in the Division I teams is most of them have three lines, five defensemen and a couple of good goaltenders,” Bishop said. “Whereas the Division IIs have two good lines, three good defensemen, and a good goaltender.”
Division III? Right now, one great player. And he doesn’t belong there.