When the storied Bowling Green Bobcats program went dark a year ago, the top flight of the Northwest Hockey Conference (NHC) was down to four teams for the 2018-19 season. That was a disturbing sign for those familiar with the Ohio high school hockey landscape.
As the league looks forward to next season, however, there is not only re-alignment on the horizon, there is a renewed optimism about high school hockey in Northwest Ohio.
Findlay, St. Francis, St. John’s and Sylvania Northview will have some company as the six-time state champion Bobcats return to the ice and Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg move up a level, creating a seven-team Red Division.
Having worked in pro and junior hockey, I am familiar with the “three-in-three” concept. When teams are trying to maximize attendance, or must consider players’ schooling, lots of games are crammed into weekends.
I can also tell you that the third game in three days tends to be $&%@ hockey…
So, what about the long-standing tradition of in-season high school hockey tournaments where teams routinely play four games in three days? – less than three days, really, when you consider the first is generally payed Friday night and the fourth is played Sunday morning. Sometimes the championship tilt can be a good match-up, but how about those Sunday 8:00 a.m. seventh-place games?
It is difficult to measure the quality of a hockey game, but I don’t think many hockey players, parents or coaches would challenge the assertion that tired hockey players make for bad hockey games.
The high school hockey culture is no different than youth hockey in that in tends to over-value the number of games young players cram into their schedule. More games do not necessarily mean better development or better hockey. There is something to be said for practice and rest.
Pat McKendry was the head coach at Walsh Jesuit from 2009-2019, where the Warriors host three tournaments per year at KSU Ice Arena.
McKendry had a problem with the standard high school tournament format, so he decided to change it up. At each of the tournaments Walsh hosted during the 2018-19 season, teams played just once on Saturday. To make up for some of the lost playing time, all tournament games consisted of three 17-minute periods instead of the OHSAA’s standard 15-minute periods.
The concept is less is more, or quality over quantity, when it comes to varsity competition.
“I always thought that playing two games in one day was a bit crazy and not very productive,” said McKendry. “When talking with a few other coaches, we essentially came up with the same discussion points: #1 – it is to many games in a short amount of time, #2 – the second game on Saturday always has problems, and #3 – Playing 17-minute periods you don't lose much game time and the games are of a higher quality. Truthfully it is a winning combination all around.”
While the quality of any given hockey game may be subjective, there are data points that can be collected on individual players through physical testing that compare how they perform in different environments.
To back his theory up with data, McKendry points to the research of Ken Martel, technical director of USA Hockey’s American Development Model. With over 25 years of experience in player development, and a long history as a coach with USA Hockey, Martel is charged with helping to provide a framework for optimal athlete development for associations nationwide to follow.
Martel’s master’s thesis at Eastern Michigan University researched the T1EHL showcase setups, and our National U18 and U17 Teams, using the same technology that is being deployed in the NHL and others in high performance sports.
The full thesis paper, “Quantifying Changes in Accelerations and Heart Rate Indicative of Fatigue During Condensed Competitions in Elite Youth Ice Hockey Players” is available here for your reading enjoyment:
The biggest change in the Northwest Hockey Conference this year is that long-time league staple, and six-time Ohio state champion, Bowling Green is taking a year off due to low participation numbers. It will be the first time in 40 years that the Bobcats have not iced a varsity hockey team.
The Bobcats, which had a run of 13 state tournament appearances in 14 years from 1991-2004, expect to return to the ice soon – potentially in 2019-20.
In the meantime, the show must go on…