By Stefan Kubus -
While the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA) reversed a rule requiring eight-and-under Mites (8U) to play a certain number of cross-ice games, it’s only delaying the future.
The 8U division is no longer mandated to play cross-ice hockey under MAHA’s ruling on July 15 at their annual summer meeting in Sault Ste. Marie.
The new rule reads that while 6U teams are required to participate in restricted space cross-ice and/or half-ice practices and games, 8U teams are only recommended to the same, as the USA Hockey American Development Model (ADM) suggests. 8U teams playing in a sanctioned league that schedule both full and half-ice games are allowed a maximum of 40 full-ice games. MAHA recommends that leagues schedule a minmum of 10 half-ice games, or an equal number of the two different sized games. Teams that do not participate in sanctioned leagues are limited to 20 full-ice games.
What this now means, essentially, is that the individual associations now have the control of choosing whether their teams play cross or full-ice hockey.
But ultimately, this is simply prolonging what’s coming down the road, as USA Hockey is mandating cross-ice for all Mites nationwide beginning in the 2013-14 season.
MAHA president George Atkinson said he was pleased with the voting results, saying it was something necessary for the governing body to do for the short-term.
“I think that is exactly what we needed to have passed,” Atkinson said. “I mean, obviously we had a committee that was very broad based. We had 35 members from all across the state, and primarily those were association people – people on the ground that know what needed to be done. They formulated that, brought it forward, and it has had a lot of discussion over the last couple of months. Everybody seemed to be behind it, and so I think what we needed to do was the right thing for MAHA right now.
Atkinson explained that MAHA will be required to meet the USA Hockey Sept. 1 deadline next year for the change in playing surface. However, USA Hockey will allow MAHA to work into it, or have an exemption until they can get closer to the ultimate goal of utilizing it.
“I put together a committee already to start working on that. USA Hockey has told us that – once we submit a plan – it will take approximately 30 days for the committee to review that plan, and get it back to us. By Mar. 1, 2013, we should know where we are for the ’13-14 season, so we won’t be here at the summer meeting next year, wondering what we’re going to do.”
Gordon Bowman, MAHA vice president of coaching, ultimately feels the rule passing gives kids extra opportunity to play an active role on the ice.
“Eventually, it’s going to become a matter of fact,” said Bowman, who was also named the 2012 William Kellogg Memorial Award winner for outstanding achievement and dedication to amateur hockey in Michigan during the MAHA meetings. “We’re going to have limited space hockey for that age group in the state. Eventually, it will phase out the full-ice component of it in the years to come, but I think this is a good buffer.”
Bob Mancini, regional manager for USA Hockey’s ADM, said that while he felt the rule had to pass, he ultimately was not thrilled about the effect that the rule will have on kids and their development.
“What’s sad is the rule is obviously not about what is good for kids, and it is taking a step backwards in doing what’s right in the state of Michigan for our kids,” said Mancini, former head coach of Michigan Tech, Ferris State, and the Saginaw Spirit. “So, from that standpoint, I’m looking forward to the transition now. I’m looking forward to us all working together to put the right programming in place for the kids, and for us to now comeback and find a way to work together and get this done.”
Bowman also added that he was not surprised by the rule’s passing one bit, citing the hard work that went into shaping the final rule proposal. The longtime MAHA member also believes it gives kids more chances to play an active role on the ice.
“I think that, after we worked on this rule and hammered it out, we had what almost seemed to be support throughout the state,” Bowman said. “It will probably satisfy a lot of people for the year, and I think it gives us an opportunity to work on our future aspirations for Mite hockey.
“I’m a real proponent for cross-ice hockey. My local association is Plymouth, and we’ve done it for many, many years in our Learn to Skate program. We’ve always had great Mite teams that have come out of it, and part of it is that we emphasize skating, but the limited space gives kids that extra opportunity. ‘Johnny Rocket’ can become a better ‘Johnny Rocket,’ and ‘Johnny No-Rocket’ can become almost a ‘Johnny Rocket.’ “
A big concern over mandating cross-ice hockey is that some parents will want their kids to play on a full-ice surface, no matter what. That’s where the American Athletic Union (AAU) has presented a fork in the road for MAHA. Mancini spoke to the frustration with the AAU because of the rule change.
“What’s frustrating is their apparent lack of regard for putting in rules that are good for children playing sports; that’s frustrating,” Mancini said. “What’s frustrating is that Michigan had made, as a body, some great strides to get the rule where it was. With some tweaks it would have been a great rule to move forward with, and lastly, certainly not least, what is frustrating is the rule that is now on the books is not any better than the rule we went away from and that’s a shame.”
Mancini praised districts around the state for hopping on board early with the cross-ice style, something he believes is absolutely crucial in making the transition to the 2013-14 USA Hockey mandate a much smoother process.
“It’s obvious now that after three years there are some districts and some people who have absolutely done the right thing. Their numbers are showing it. The progress has shown it, and now it’s time for the rest of the state, instead of digging their heels in and fighting, instead of resisting what’s really good for the player development, is to find ways to educate their parents, and to get it done.”