2011-07-14 / Sports

High school hockey continues to struggle

BY BRANDON POPE 810-452-2651 

Davison played Swartz Creek in last season’s regionals at Perani Arena. 
Photo by Lisa Paine Davison played Swartz Creek in last season’s regionals at Perani Arena. Photo by Lisa Paine AREAWIDE— When the puck drops on the upcoming high school hockey season, some of the area programs will look significantly different compared to last year. Within the general area, there are three program changes that have taken place this off-season.

Clio and LakeVille put an end to their co-op agreement, leaving the two schools searching for another program to combine with. Clio has reached an agreement to form a co-op with Swartz Creek, while LakeVille plans to join forces with both Dryden and North Branch, schools that have never had high school hockey. The team wil skate as the LakeVille Falcons as an independent out of the Polar Palace in Lapeer.

However, the biggest shakeup came in the city of Lapeer. East and West high schools have been bitter rivals for decades, but will now become teammates on the ice. Although West has no shortage of participants, East has been struggling in the numbers game in recent years. As part of budget cuts, Lapeer Community Schools announced that it could only fund one hockey program, resulting in East and West maintaining one squad with Lapeer West athletic director Mary Haslinger acting as the primary. Lapeer East will retain some supervisory responsibilities.

Interest in hockey has been on a decline for years now, preventing several area schools from continuing with their programs. In the Flint Metro League, Fenton and Brandon remain as the only two standalone programs. Davison’s Big Nine rival, Flushing, skates as a co-op with Carman-Ainsworth, while Flint Powers has steady numbers to skate as a standalone program.

“Well, I think its unfortunate that the schools can’t survive with their own teams, but they have a battle going on for the hockey talent,” said Davison hockey statistician Larry Botti. “If you have to combine programs to be more competitive then it’s only going to make better quality hockey.”

Even a program as strong as Davison can have occasional slips in numbers. On a team that usually draws 20-30 players in an average season, they were only able to start last season with 16 players. According to the new MHSAA rules, a full roster consists of 22.

“The numbers also depend on how many we graduate each year,” said Botti. “Last year, we lost 10 seniors, so we had to pick 10 new players.”

Heading into the 2011-12 season, the Cardinals will be forced to replace eight seniors.

The numbers are not the only problem concerning most hockey programs. Hockey has always been an expensive sport, and costs continue to increase. With the economy in shambles, schools are not as willing to foot the bill as they used to.

“(Davison) took a bit of a hit (financially). Part of the money that it raised for the hockey program in past years was at the hospitality tent at the Buick Open. So, no Buick Open, no money,” said Botti. “It costs $250 an hour for ice time. The home team at each game gets a certain amount of the ticket sales. About five or six years ago, we would draw about 500- 800 fans per game, but it has since tailed off.”

Davison’s home ice is at Perani Arena in Flint, where it enjoys its own locker room facilities. Other local teams such as Goodrich, Lapeer and Brandon skate out of the Polar Palace in Lapeer and Grand Blanc skates out of Ice Mountain in Burton.

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