The Superior High School boys hockey team will officially play in the WIAA Division 2 playoffs in the 2019-20 season.
The WIAA has had a one-division tournament since its inception in 1971, and for the first time next season, the state’s 86 hockey teams will be split. The 54 high schools with the highest enrollment will be in Division 1, the other 32 in Division 2.
The Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association submitted a recommendation of a state tournament that included eight Division 1 teams and four in Division 2, but that recommendation turned into four teams in each division.
So instead of an eight-region tournament, followed by an eight-team state tournament, teams will be assigned to one of four sections. Four Division 1 schools and four Division 2 schools - one from each of the sectionals - will move on to the state tournament.
The decision made by SHS on April 1 was to play where the WIAA placed them, and based on a school enrollment of 1,291 students, that put Superior among the smaller schools in Division 2.
A committee that included Kosey, boys hockey coach Jason Kalin, SHS Principal Greg Posewitz and Superior School District Administrator Amy Starzecki was formed and there was a collaborative recommendation presented to the Superior School Board.
“We gathered information from current hockey players, hockey coaches, the Superior Amateur Hockey Association board and the entire coaching staff of all sports at SHS, made the recommendation and the board and they approved it,” Kosey said. “While it was split almost right down the middle, our entire coaching staff was 100 percent on playing where the WIAA placed us.
“It’s important that we treat all of our sports with equality and in every other sport you play in the tournament that you’re placed in.”
Superior, as well as the remaining 31 teams in Division 2 had the option of moving up to Division 1, and according the Wisconsin Prep Hockey website, three schools that made that move were Madison Edgewood, University School of Milwaukee and Green Bay Notre Dame.
“There have been people saying we opted down, but you can’t opt down,” Kosey said. “We just said we’re going to play in whatever tournament our enrollment lands us. That’s what we do with every other sport we have.
“When people are saying that Superior is the only team that didn’t opt up, that’s also not accurate, because there were 29 other teams in D2 that did not opt up.”
The decision to play where placed is a one-year commitment and will be looked at again after next season.
“Next year we’ll be in the same boat and will have to make another choice,” Kosey said. “This gives us one year to see if the WIAA system works for our school, the community and our kids. We’ll evaluate it again next year and do whatever’s best for our program.”
As it sits now, Superior is in a D2 sectional along with the Amery co-op, Chequamegon/Butternut/Mercer/Phillips, Grantsburg/Frederic/Luck/Siren/Unity/Webster, Hayward, Medford, New Richmond and Rice Lake.
The sectional final is scheduled to be played at Wessman Arena.
“Being able to host a sectional final played a role in our decision,” Kosey said. “If you look at other sports like basketball, baseball or softball, Superior has never been given a sectional final, why, the WIAA isn’t going to send teams like Stevens Point or Wausau all the way up to Superior. I would argue that’s wrong and we should be able to host. We have great facilities.
“This way, we have a better ability to still be able to host a section final and it worked out that way for us this year. We would have not been given the section final if we were in D1.”
A few other things the committee looked at were the school’s travel budget and missed class time.
The Division 1 sectional stretches from Wausau (233 miles from Superior) to Stevens Point (263 miles) and Hudson (164 miles).
“Our average travel would have doubled in D1 compared to D2,” Kosey said. “Our girls basketball team had to go to Appleton on a Thursday night last season and the first playoff game in hockey is on a Tuesday, so there was a chance we would have had to go to Stevens Point or Wisconsin Rapids on a school night. That’s more than three hours each way. Then there's another game on Thursday.”
Kosey would also like to call some welcome attention to the sport, and possibly lead to discussion on how better to stage state hockey tournaments, especially like the one in Minnesota.
“I really think in this instance the WIAA is not doing what the coaches association is asking for, and what is best for the state of hockey,” Kosey said. “If you look at Minnesota’s state hockey tournament, we’re nowhere close to what they have.
“I think there are a lot of things the WIAA has to open up to - the venue, the number of teams, a third-place game and a consolation bracket. There are a lot of things they can do, not only for hockey, but all WIAA sports that can enhance the experience. When you talk to the hockey coaches association, they think the WIAA is not treating their sport with the importance they think it deserves.”
One of the concerns of playing at the D2 level was future scheduling.
“Our schedule is booked for next year and we’re ready to go,” Kosey said. “I don’t see our schedule changing too much whether we went D1 or D2. Will Hudson say they don’t want to play us because of our level of play? I don’t see that happening. We’re still the Spartans and we play against the best competition we can, including the Lake Superior Conference. Teams know what they’re getting when they play Superior.”
As for next season, the Spartans are scheduled to play five D1 teams (Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire Memorial and North, Hudson and Wausau West) and four D2 teams (New Richmond, Rice Lake, River Falls and Menomonie).
With the change, the D2 state semifinal games will be played at 10 a.m. and noon on Thursday, March 5. The winners will have Friday off and the championship game will be at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 7.
The D1 semifinals will follow the girls semifinal games on Friday, March 6. The girls title game will be at noon Saturday, followed by the D1 title game at 2:15 p.m.
“There’s no guarantee we’re going to make it to state in D2,” Kosey said. “There’s some good teams in our section. You can run into a hot goalie and anything can happen. Our kids will have to be ready to play, no matter the division.
“I personally think there’s going to be more pressure on our kids to play in D2, because if we don’t win a state title, people will probably mock Superior hockey more than if we lost our first game in D1.”
Superior’s tradition in Wisconsin hockey is second to none. The Spartans have won the most championships with 13, and lead in state tournament appearances with 37.
“We’re not trying to take anything away from what past teams have accomplished,” Kosey said. “I think Superior will always be known for its hockey and its success. Hopefully we can continue that.”