Playing hockey in your local community is at the heart of Minnesota's legacy in the sport. It is why Minnesota consistently ranks at the top in the nation in youth participation and elite players. It is what makes the state tournaments so special. It is the “Minnesota Model”.
Our system used to be very simple – you played where you lived. A strong bond developed between the local youth programs and the High School programs which encouraged each area to develop their own facilities and players, creating a source of pride for each community throughout the state.
With the ever growing impact of open enrollment in the early 2000’s, there was a need to address the change in the school system in order to preserve the integrity of the community-based system. Minnesota Hockey enacted the “Participation Rule” to allow players to participate either where they live or where they go to school. Restrictions were added though to prevent the "recruiting" of skilled players to certain schools or associations with the intent of forming all-star teams.
To summarize the rule, here are the basics:
1) First-time registration is always with the Association of Residence, or where you live.
2) If a player wants to participate where he/she goes to school (Association of School Participation) rather than where they live, the Association of Residence is required to waive the player (neither the releasing nor receiving associations can refuse the waiver). It is a semi-permanent waiver, effective as long as the player continues to attend the school. If the player stops attending that school, he/she reverts back to their Association of Residence for participation or waiver.
3) There are some natural "break points" where students change schools – typically the transition from elementary to middle or junior-high school, and from middle or junior-high school to high school. Players who change schools at these "break points" have full eligibility to compete in their Association of School Attendance at any division.
4) Players who change schools outside of the normal "break points" can start playing in the their Association of School Attendance immediately, but are not eligible at the highest division for one year beginning with the first day of attendance in the new school.
The Participation Rule may at times seem complex, but it plays a critical role in maintaining our community-based traditions while accommodating open enrollment. The true importance becomes even more clear when you compare it with the alternative.
While our history of community-based hockey goes back to the 1950's, most other areas concentrate their best players on "select teams" or "club teams". Minnesota teams have participated in National Tournaments at the Bantam level in the past and have seen club teams first-hand. They are admittedly highly skilled but are not necessarily the best all around path for player development.
The club team model is often a high-cost option that concentrates on too few players and plays too many games. While these clubs can be very appealing, many other states that primarily use the club team model are envious of what we have here in Minnesota. Roger Grillo, former Division I Head Coach at Brown University, has seen the damaging effects this approach can have on youth hockey.
“In 2003, there was 185 kids from Massachusetts playing Division I college hockey,” said Grillo, who is now the Regional ADM Manager for Massachusetts and New England Districts. “This year there was 100. In the last ten years, there was a drop off of 85 fewer kids playing at the elite level. That is a pretty telling number in terms of the impact that the culture of youth hockey has had in a negative way in this region.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota continues to lead the nation in developing hockey players, and a big reason for that is our affordable system provides the opportunity to play hockey to a broader base of players. Players have the chance to grow up playing with the same group of friends in an environment that focuses primarily on skill development and fun, especially at the younger age levels. Once they reach high school, these players are more likely than their club counterparts to have the combination of skill and passion for the game necessary to compete at the higher levels of hockey.
“The challenge [in player development] is to have that 13-14 year old kid have that same feeling about playing the game when he’s older as he did when he was a kid,” said Grillo. “Talk to some of the guys that play for the Wild or the University of Minnesota, you can just feel the passion they have to play the game. The most important thing a parent can do for a kid is to cocoon their passion to play.”
While many clubs across the country are working hard to change their approach by adopting the American Development Model, community-based hockey continues to thrive in comparison.
Community based hockey isn’t just a legacy or tradition. It is a model that has and continues to withstand the test of time. Minnesota Hockey is proud to be its flag bearer.