New conference could be trouble for hockey

NEW ULM – At the Thursday, Oct. 24th meeting of the District 88 School Board, there will be discussion regarding the proposed Southern Plains Conference, which would be a merger of the South Central and Southwest Conferences.

And while almost all of the head varsity sports coaches at New Ulm High School are not opposed to it, two head coaches have many concerns that it will have a negative impact on their sports. It is almost a carbon copy of a proposal seven years ago that led to the resignation of a long-time head coach and had a trickle down impact on the relationships between New Ulm and members of the Southwest Conference schools.

Head coaches of the New Ulm High School boy’s and girl’s hockey teams – Erik Setterholm and Kristen Faber – expressed concerns that joining the Southern Plains Conference would have effects on the quality of their respective programs.

If approved it would mean a double round-robin conference game schedule. In boy’s hockey, New Ulm would have to play teams like Redwood Falls, Worthington, Waseca, St.Peter-LeSueur, Luverne, Windom, Marshall and Fairmont.

Of those teams, only St. Peter-LeSueur, Luverne and Marshall have junior varsity teams. That means that the New Ulm/Sleepy Eye High School program would not have 10 JV games that would otherwise be played.

Of course, finding 10 JV games at other locations when the varsity is playing would add to potential travel costs.

If this seems like deja vu to hockey fans in New Ulm, it is almost a mirror proposal of one seven years ago that led to the resignation of then head boy’s hockey coach Tom Macho in protest of the proposal.

The proposal did not happen.

The joining of the Southern Plains Conference would diminish the number of non-conference games against stronger opponents that both the girl’s and boy’s hockey teams have sought, according to both Faber and Setterholm.

“It would add to the number of conference games but it would take away from the number of stronger non-conference games,” said Faber. “That would be our biggest loss with the new conference. Playing those better non-conference teams gives you a better look at what is our there for skill in teams outside of our area. That would be my biggest concern. It is ultimately the decision of the Activities Director and the School Board.”

Faber said it is a significant jump going from eight conference games to 14 (in girl’s hockey).

“It potentially takes away from the more competitive (non-conference games). And ultimately it would eliminate some of our regular season tournaments.”

The impact would be even greater to the boy’s program.

“We would lose a lot of our non-conference games,” said Setterholm. “I take a lot of pride in the strength of our non-conference schedule. There is no question that we have tried to get better competition on our schedule. The past five years has been a testament of getting a better (non-conference) schedule. Our record has not been the best but in the end you have to play those good teams to play at the end of the year in March.”

Setterholm is very concerned about the status of the JV program if the proposal is approved.

“We have taken pride in giving kids a place to play. Most of the time the kids who are on our JV are future varsity players,” said Setterholm. “Right out of the gate they will be missing 10 games due to the conference. It is not a good situation for hockey.”

Usually, a couple of JV players will see varsity ice time following their game. That would not happen if the proposal is passed.

“Here that happens more often than not,” said Setterholm. “We get them four periods a night.”

Add to that huge numbers in the younger hockey program.

‘”We have 40 kids for varsity and the youth numbers are big.”

The District 88 School Board will have a voting meeting on this at their November 21st meeting.

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