There needs to be five improvements made to Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) high school hockey in order to preserve the product, ensure enjoyment for the student-athletes and keep the games as relevant as possible.
These are improvements that the association can make as a whole, but also some that coaches can work on to make the product better and keep kids with the high school teams.
There is no bigger proponent of high school and prep hockey in New England over midget hockey, and there are great coaches and people across the board that can make these changes.
1. 18-Minute Periods and Overtimes
Prep hockey does it, and so should the MIAA. Make each period 18 minutes instead of the current 15 minutes. If regulation ends in a tie, have a five minute sudden death overtime period. If the MIAA wants this to be about the kids, they will do this. Kids want to play more and don't want games to end in a tie, if at all possible. It's just nine minutes extra per game, but it will offset the argument that kids need to play midget or junior hockey to get more playing time.
2. Hybrid Icing
The MIAA should take another cue from prep hockey and adopt hybrid icing. Some will argue the dangerous nature of trying to beat out icings, but hybrid icing takes away the threat as there is no race to the end boards. If a player from the team that ices the puck gets to the face-off dot before the defensive team, the icing should be waved off.
3. Play the best players
There are some coaches who have no problem putting the best players on the ice, regardless of age or class year. Other coaches chose to sit more talented underclassmen to give seniors more ice time. It's one thing to reward seniors for dedication to the program, but not to an extreme. This isn't little league. Play to win the game. Coaches complain when players leave for midget hockey, and I'm certainly no proponent of doing so. But if a freshman is riding the bench when a less talented junior or senior is out there, it's harder to blame parents or the player for choosing a different route.
4. Big hits aren't penalties
Referees at all levels are occasionally guilty of this, but some MIAA officials are the worst culprits. A big hit by a bigger player against a smaller opponent doesn't mean it's an illegal hit. Too often, referees just blow the whistle because the end result looks bad. Put the whistle away and let kids play.
5. Let the coaches decide
With the Super 8 selection less than a month away, now is a good time to revisit an old issue. Principals and other dignitaries should have no place deciding post-season proceedings. Let coaches, former coaches and athletic directors with a vested interest in the sport be the sole choosers of the state's premier tournament. Let's remember, MIAA dignitaries and principals are the same folks who think it necessary to not let fans sit in the first row at high school playoff games like they are some sort of zoo creatures who can't control themselves.
Enjoy the games and let the best team win come March!