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Colorado high school hockey likely moving to two classifications

February 28, 2014 Updated: February 28, 2014 at 10:25 pm
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Pine Creek forward Zach Zimmerman takes the puck down the ice against Doherty during the first period Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, at Sertich Ice Center in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Hockey in Colorado was too lopsided. That's the decision the state hockey committee came to Friday, voting to split a unified classification in two.

While the official decision will need to be approved later in the spring, it's all but certain that hockey will soon be Class 5A and Class 4A.

"This will be good for hockey," said Erik Austin, the Colorado high school hockey coaches association president and Cheyenne Mountain's hockey coach. "We'll be able to grow and maintain the smaller schools by adding the big schools."

The classes will be determined by enrollment as they are for all other sports sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association.

The sport has flourished the last several seasons at the high school level, as a number of teams in and around Denver have cropped up. A lot of those teams have started as district teams, such as Cherry Creek and Mountain Vista, which draw from a number of schools in their district. Creek and Mountain Vista both made it to the second round of the state playoffs, while Creek reached Friday's semifinals in just its second season.

"I think we're in a position for a restructure," Doherty coach Will English said. "We've got some situations where we've got traditional high school teams and district teams and as far as parity to the league that's where the setback is."

The main theme from various sources was the idea of growing the sport. The 13 nonplayoff teams lost an astounding 176 games over the 2013-14 seasons. In the first round of the playoffs, the eight teams who won did so by a combined score of 57-9.

"The last thing a high school player wants is to not feel they're in a competitive situation," Cherry Creek coach Jeff Mielnicki told The Gazette last week.

Doherty athletic directory Chris Noll, who sits on the hockey committee, was pleased with the breaking into two classes, though he admits, it might not help Pikes Peak region teams as much as they had hoped.

"I think us separating 5A and 4A, I think it hurts area teams," Noll said Friday. "I think it hurts area teams because of the way we're structured."

Area teams have a long history of hockey, which is why most of them are either teams made up of one or two schools, rather than district schools. Noll said there has been talk about some area schools going to district teams, but Doherty's program, which includes a few District 49 students, won't be going that route.

"If the competitive balance continues to be as widespread as it is and some 5A teams continue to get beat (as badly as happened this season), do some local schools combine teams to be more competitive?" Noll asked rhetorically. "I for one am against that because I think we have to give as many kids a chance to play hockey as possible."

English, who has coached the Spartans into the playoffs the last two seasons, was on the fence about the separation.

"If its going to help kids to play high school hockey and some new programs come about ... and more kids are going to get to play, then yes, I'm for it," he said. "If it's going to be in situations where an in-balance of competitiveness then no, I don't think so."

Austin, the Cheyenne Mountain coach, thinks a change will be felt immediately.

"A lot of people talked about the size of the league not being big enough to split," he said. "I think with the split you have two fairly competitive conferences. (Even) with teams up north mostly dominant, but you'll see more closer games up and down the schedule next year."

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