Public C? Say it ain’t so

May 17, 2017 on 10:12 am | In analysis, breaking news | 1 Comment

This blog was dormant in 2016-17 as I focused on fatherhood and NBA broadcasting, but I did manage to keep standings and team-by-team schedules updated in a single Excel file made available online, so I was glad to have some part to play in the New Jersey hockey season and continue to maintain records going back at least 15 years.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for this site or my involvement, but I thought I would put together a post on the biggest news in high school hockey right now:
The NJSIAA will be adding a third public-school tournament in 2017-18 on a one-year, trial basis.

I had heard rumblings that this might come up, but it all seemed to come together pretty suddenly. Most coaches I talked to didn’t even know about it. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but here’s the official paper trail:

March 22
The NJSIAA Ice Hockey Committee holds its postseason meeting. In addition to NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois, the committee consists of tournament director and Fair Lawn athletic director Cory Robinson, Shore Conference representative and Brick Memorial head coach Chip Bruce, Morris County representative and former Chatham head coach Harvey Cohen, athletic director representative and Morris Knolls athletic director Ken Mullen, CVC representative and Hightstown athletic director Jim Peto, and referee representatives Jack Lally (referee assignor) and Bob Triebe (state rules interpreter). These are hockey people, if not one that is super representative of state hockey coaches. On the agenda is a proposal to establish a third public group classification (Public C) as a one-year pilot program. It is approved 7-0. (NJSIAA minutes)

April 5
The NJSIAA Executive Committee holds its monthly, public meeting. Two major hockey issues are presented:

  1. The proposal to allow ice hockey co-ops to be formed by three schools, provided they do not roster more than 30 players, passes its first reading.
  2. The proposal to create a third public ice hockey group passes its first reading unanimously. The goal is to create three equal groups of 32-33 teams, more consistent with groupings in other sports, give “another school a championship opportunity,” and to eliminate “the out-bracket game.” (NJSIAA minutes)

April 6
The NJSIAA League & Conference Committee holds its monthly meeting, and Jack DuBois provides the update that the ice hockey committee is considering adding a third group and it was approved at the executive committee’s first reading. (NJSIAA minutes)

May 3
The NJSIAA Executive Committee holds its monthly, very public meeting, with most of it taken up by discussion of the competing proposals to revamp the NJSIAA football playoffs.

Without any discussion, the ice hockey proposal is approved:

So there you have it. Three public groups in 2017-18, and they will almost certainly be split evenly from the state’s public-school ice hockey programs, which currently number 97, although the proposal for Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley to merge could reduce that number to 96, and given the trend toward co-ops and now tri-ops, it could keep decreasing.

I have mixed feelings about this. I think in 5 years, it will seem completely normal to us, just like first having separate public/private tournaments and later splitting into Public A and Public B seem completely normal to us now. But I’m not so sure this is a good idea.

Every time I try to argue against the split, I find that the current fields thrown up in A / B / C are fairly reasonable. Schools with NJSIAA enrollment figures (3 years’ worth of students) of less than 1,000 are in their own group (Public C), while what we have thought of as the bigger schools are now split into two groups. I don’t find this necessary, but I don’t hate it. Morris Knolls and Randolph were coming perilously close to Public B, and that would just kind of defeat the purpose. So for right now, the split might make sense.

But look at the direction things are going. More and more programs are becoming co-ops, in many cases just to stay alive. Co-ops, as a merger of 2-3 schools, will naturally have larger enrollments. So Public A is going to get weaker and weaker as more of the slots are taken up by co-op programs. Pretty soon there will only be about 10 stand-alone programs in Public A, which will hand a state championship to Bridgewater, Hillsborough, Howell, Hunterdon Central, Toms River North, or Watchung Hills (all with enrollment figures of 1,600+).

Yet there is a good chance that there will be at least 31 public co-op programs in 2017-18. That’s roughly the same size the NJSIAA is targetting for each group with this new rule. So why not make co-op a separate category?

If we’re going to separate private and public schools because they’re not on a level playing field, this follows the same pattern. If a team pulls players from multiple schools, it should only compete for a championship against teams pulling players from multiple schools. (The counter-argument being that most co-ops would be broken up if they started competing for state championships, as co-ops are typically approved for schools which are struggling to field a team).

I ran the numbers, and if you split co-ops into their own group, the dividing line for enrollment figure would only go from 1,000 (between Public B/C) to 1,050 (between Public A/B). So it wouldn’t affect the bottom group that much. Last year’s tournaments would have had 26 teams in Public A, 22 in Public B, and 12 in Public Co-Op. Although there might have been a different scheduling and at-large considerations that would have brought Public Co-Op to 16 teams. It’s also possibel that private co-op teams could be allowed into the Public Co-Op tournament. Which would ruin the cool Public C moniker, but that’s OK!

Do I love that co-op programs will be able to say they were state champions and receive the same trophy as a typical, stand-alone program? Not really. Is it possible that adding a co-op state championship will encourage more schools to co-op unnecessarily? Very much so.

But I do think splitting co-ops into their own state tournament would be pro-active (anticipating more co-ops) rather than reactionary (our tournaments got too big, so let’s add another one!), and I do think it would put teams on an even playing field, both lessons I want to see in high school sports.

What do you think? Weigh in via the comments section!

By the way, there’s almost no chance it will happen that way in 2017-18. Here’s how I expect Public A / B / C to break down:

Of the 32 teams that would go into what I would expect to be a 32-team Public A group, 16 are co-ops (17 if the Wayne programs merge). Programs include Bridgewater-Raritan, Hunterdon Central, Hillsborough, Howell, Watchung Hills, Freehold Township, Southern Regional, Montclair, Robbinsville / Allentown, Sparta / Jefferson. 17 of the 32 made a state tournament last year.

The 32 teams that would make up Public B include 11 co-ops (12 if the Wayne programs merge and move up to Public A). We’re talking Ridge, Westfield, Livingston, Morris Knolls, Morristown, Montgomery, Randolph, Roxbury, both Middletown North and Middletown South, Jackson Memorial, Princeton, and probably Northern Highlands. 25 of the 32 made a state tournament last year.

The 33 teams that would make up Public C (32 if the Wayne programs merge) all have NJSIAA enrollment figures (3 years’ worth of students) of less than 1,000 and include only three co-ops. They include Brick Township, Chatham, Ramsey, Summit, Glen Rock, Hopewell Valley, Indian Hills, Kinnelon, Lakeland, Madison, Mahwah, Mendham, Rumson-Fair Haven, Wall. 18 of 33 made a state tournament last year.

Suggested seedings, 2016 – Public B

February 15, 2016 on 12:02 pm | In analysis | No Comments

Just about every year, I take my own swing at seeding the NJSIAA Tournaments. These are not predictions, but suggestions; how I would seed the bracket, not how I think the seeding committee will.

For my seedings, I start with division standings, since finishing ahead of another team in a double-round-robin regular season is usually a very good indicator. Then I look at teams’ non-league results and try to compare them against each other. Finally, I try to avoid matchups that pit division rivals whenever possible.

Private | Public A | Public B

Let me just say that after the top four, these rankings were extremely difficult all the way down into the 20s, and there will always be several logical inconsistencies because the results are so convoluted.

Here are my suggested seedings for this year’s Public B state tournament: Continue reading Suggested seedings, 2016 – Public B…

Suggested seedings, 2016 – Public A

February 15, 2016 on 12:01 pm | In analysis | No Comments

Just about every year, I take my own swing at seeding the NJSIAA Tournaments. These are not predictions, but suggestions; how I would seed the bracket, not how I think the seeding committee will.

For my seedings, I start with division standings, since finishing ahead of another team in a double-round-robin regular season is usually a very good indicator. Then I look at teams’ non-league results and try to compare them against each other. Finally, I try to avoid matchups that pit division rivals whenever possible.

Private | Public A | Public B

Here are my suggested seedings for this year’s Public A state tournament: Continue reading Suggested seedings, 2016 – Public A…

Suggested seedings, 2016 – NJSIAA Private

February 15, 2016 on 12:00 pm | In analysis | 1 Comment

Just about every year, I take my own swing at seeding the NJSIAA Tournaments. These are not predictions, but suggestions; how I would seed the bracket, not how I think the seeding committee will.

For my seedings, I start with division standings, since finishing ahead of another team in a double-round-robin regular season is usually a very good indicator. Then I look at teams’ non-league results and try to compare them against each other. Finally, I try to avoid matchups that pit division rivals whenever possible.

Private | Public A | Public B

Here are my suggested seedings for this year’s private state tournament: Continue reading Suggested seedings, 2016 – NJSIAA Private…

2016 NJSIAA Tournament automatic qualifiers

February 8, 2016 on 11:53 pm | In analysis | 1 Comment

I’ve obviously been derelict in my blogging duties this year, but it’s 11:45 pm on the deadline day for teams to reach a .500 record to qualify automatically for the NJSIAA tournaments. Seeding will come out in the middle of next week.

Here’s who’s definitely in and who still has a chance. Continue reading 2016 NJSIAA Tournament automatic qualifiers…

JY20: Let the tournaments begin!

December 17, 2015 on 7:53 am | In history, JY20 | No Comments

Everybody’s favorite part of the high school hockey season is tournament time. By which, I mean the state tournaments that take place in late February and early March.

But tournament time happens in December, too, with holiday tournaments taking place throughout the state. Although they start this weekend with the 68th annual Lawrenceville Tournament, that’s for boarding schools. The regular kids start playing tournament games Sunday night, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Continue reading JY20: Let the tournaments begin!…

JY20: The water bottles

December 16, 2015 on 9:17 am | In history, JY20 | No Comments

OK, this is not relevant to anything currently going on, nor is it told in sequence with my other looks into the past, but for some reason, this nuance from high school keeps coming back to me.

Having enrolled at Delbarton in 7th grade, when I was already a fan of the hockey team, I was attached to them from the get-go. I began covering the MCSSIHL (Morris County league) in 8th grade, but I had no official affiliation with the team itself. I wanted the fan experience. For a lot of games, I would stand with the Delbarton student section (a cherished tradition) and scribble notes to myself, then get boxscores and deal with actual recaps after the fact. For bigger games, I might sit off to the side and take notes, but it was no secret where my loyalties lay.

But Doug Skinner, the excellent, very professional student manager, graduated after my sophomore year, and it was a natural step for me to take over for my junior and senior years. This involved one conversation with our head coach, Brian Day, when he asked if I could keep the locker room, the team, and any inside information separate from my newsletter. I told him I could, and I had the job.

I loved being an official part of the team. I didn’t go to practices (thank God!), but I wore a tie with the players on gamedays, went on all the road trips, manned the penalty box during the game, and was in the locker room before and after every period. I already knew most of the players, but being around them more and going on the trips was terrific. I took my fair share of teasing and schtick, like any manager, but I was part of the group.

My duties included keeping statistics, charting shots, turning in the starting lineup, reporting game results to the newspapers, etc. I already knew how to do virtually all of this from my hockey work and from filling the statistician’s role for football and soccer. At some point, the coaches asked me to add passes completed/attempted to my repertoire, as well as turnovers in the defensive zone and the first 10 feet of the offensive zone. This got tricky and pretty intense, but I set up a system in my binder and found a way to do it.

My least favorite part of the job was the water bottles.

All teams keep water bottles in the bench areas for guys to grab between shifts. Managers had to fill them up before the game, carry them out to the bench, and re-fill them between periods. No big deal, right?

Well, thinking back to previous years in which multiple players on the team had gotten sick at the same time, Coach Day decided that each player needed to have his own, dedicated water bottle. This way, they wouldn’t exchange germs. So I had to label the water bottles, keep the screw-off tops matching each player’s bottle, and keep them organized.

At first, I tried writing the players’ numbers on the water bottles themselves with a sharpie. As wonderful as those markers are, this didn’t work. With red water bottles and a glossy surface, I had to trace over each number several times to even get it to show up. Once you could (sort of) read them, the numbers wore off relatively quickly, especially since each bottle was getting rinsed 3-4 times per game as I filled and re-filled them.

My next solution was to wrap white tape around the top of the bottle and then write each player’s number on the tape, to make it more lasting and more clearly visible. This, too, had drawbacks: the tape would get soaked and peel off. But at least it was repeatable, so I would check before a game and tape over any pieces that looked shaky, giving them a fresh layer and re-labeling with the correct number. It also meant made it easier to change the number or add a new one if a player got called up from JV.

We had a crate in which to carry the water bottles, so I would keep them in the crate in numerical order to stay organized, with the water bottles for each goalie resting on top, to be handed out on their way to the ice. But when arranging the water bottles on the bench (also part of my job), you need them to be in the right spot – forwards closest to the offensive zone, defensemen closest to the defensive zone. So I would place them on the right side of the bench, keeping line combinations and defense pairings together.

Of course, players from the same line wouldn’t necessarily sit together. And, to be honest, I have a feeling players just used whatever water bottle was in front of them, without worrying about the numbers. I seem to remember Coach Day chewing them out one time for doing just that. So I’m not sure how necessary / effective all that extra work was.

But I do remember frantically kneeling next to a sink, trying to re-fill the water bottles as quickly as possible during those five-minute breaks without an ice cut at Mennen. I remember giving the guys hot water once, up at Sport-O-Rama, because the locker room somehow didn’t offer cold. I remember frantically searching for a water fountain up at Milton Academy during a road trip, because our locker room had no sinks.

I remember going out early for a Delbarton-Seton Hall Prep game, back when they announced a start time 30 minutes before the actual face-off and cut the ice between warm-ups and the game. So the student sections of each team were already jammed into South Mountain Arena, looking around for something to do, and because the walkways around the rink were packed and I was running out of time, I had to go across the ice to get to the benches. This was no big deal – I walked across the ice 2-3 times per game. But not with 2,000 people watching me. I had only taken a few steps before the Seton Hall Prep fans started booing and whistling and heckling. Fortunately, I was walking toward our fans, and while I may not have been the most popular guy in school, for that moment we were all in it together. Our student section responded with, “Yardley, Yardley, Yardley!” as I reached our bench and arranged the water bottles just so. Getting the first cheer of the day in that rivalry was something special. (As was our dominant 4-1 win that day. We won’t talk about what happened in the state tournament. I’m still trying to shut it out.)

But probably my favorite water-bottle memory is the time our student trainer, a stocky guy, did me a favor by carrying the crate out to the ice for the second period. This was up at Middlebury, at a tournament in their fancy new arena, and I was back in the tunnel to the locker room. Like any high-level rink, you can’t see the ice from there. Going out to help, I turned the corner toward the ice, and I just saw red water bottles rolling across the rink. Our trainer had slipped and fallen on the fresh ice, dropping most of the bottles in the process! I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. After I helped him pick them up, of course.

Never a dull moment in hockey, even with something as simple as water bottles.

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