The start of the 2019-20 high school hockey season is a day away for 195 boys teams across Massachusetts.
That is three fewer programs overall than took the ice a year ago, continuing a trend that has plagued high school hockey since the turn of the century. Most notable will be the “absence” of Matignon, one of the true Massachusetts hockey powers from the 1970s through most of the ‘90s, but a program that has been a reflection of the changing landscape for the last decade or more. Faced with depleted numbers, Matignon recently made the tough decision not to field its own team for at least 2019-20, and instead will join forces with Revere and Malden in a three-team co-operative program.
Stoughton and Brockton also struggled for numbers in recent seasons, so those two schools have created a new co-op team and will continue to play out of Brockton’s Asiaf Arena under longtime Stoughton coach Dan Mark. Cape Cod Tech and Cape Cod Academy, which have had a co-op program since 2009-10, will not field a varsity team this season and instead hope to skate at the JV level.
Those program changes also will be part of a much greater shift in alignment that has effected a number of schools throughout Eastern Mass.
Revere/Malden/Matignon will be part of the return of the Greater Boston League, which previously had merged with the Northeastern Conference before splitting off again in all sports. Everett, Medford and Somerville are the other schools in the four-team league. Meanwhile, their departures leave the NEC with nine teams — Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Marblehead and Winthrop in the North; Lynn, Peabody, Saugus and Swampscott in the South.
Stoughton’s merger sends the co-op team to the Independent ranks, and creates an interesting setup for the remainder of the Hockomock League. The Kelley-Rex Division stays intact from last season with six teams – Attleboro, Franklin, King Philip, Mansfield, Oliver Ames and Taunton – but the Davenport Division now has just three teams left with Canton, Foxboro and North Attleboro. Regardless, the league will continue to play a single eight-game round-robin schedule among all teams.
The Catholic Central League already was going to have a different look even before Matignon’s departure, as Lowell Catholic moves up and will keep the Large Schools group at six teams. The leftover teams from the CCL Small – Cardinal Spellman, John Paul II and St. Joseph Prep – likely will be independent but the possibility remains for them to continue as a three-team Small Schools league.
Lowell moves up to the Merrimack Valley/Dual County 2, with Methuen dropping down to MVC/DCL 3.Perhaps the biggest seismic shift has taken place with the expansion of the Cape & Islands League, causing ripple effects throughout the South. The C&I will have a pair of four-team divisions – Barnstable, Falmouth, Nauset and Sandwich in the C&I Atlantic; Dennis-Yarmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, Mashpee/Monomoy and Nantucket in the C&I Lighthouse.
The Big Three and Old Colony leagues have disbanded for all sports, leaving Bridgewater-Raynham, Dartmouth and Durfee to form the new Southeast Conference. Marshfield, also a casualty of the Atlantic Coast League’s demise, will play each Patriot League team once but officially will be an independent as well before joining the Patriot starting next year.
The South Shore League remains at six teams, but the big change is with the league’s lone co-op. Middleboro, which previously had been skating along with Hull, will go on its own for the first time since 2012-13. Meanwhile, Hull instead will join forces with neighboring Cohasset, with Hull serving as the host school.
One other co-op undergoing a change: Greater Lowell now will be the host school of the program that also includes Nashoba Tech, and the team remains in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
Central Mass. has flipped a few teams between leagues. Leominster and Nashoba go to the Roy Conference with Algonquin switching to the Quinn Conference, balancing each of those leagues with five teams apiece. Among the Division 3A teams, Grafton/Blackstone Valley and Worcester/Leicester move to the Russell Conference, with Fitchburg/Monty Tech and Gardner flipping into the Coughlin Conference.
Expect to see plenty of new faces behind the benches this season, with at least 26 schools changing coaches as of the final week before practice starts.
Beginning this season, the MIAA has approved a two-year pilot program allowing leagues to play a five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime period during regular-season games.
Also, plan on a shorter and much more compact regular season. Not only does the schedule start late (Dec. 12) because of Thanksgiving, but the cutoff date for the tournament now will be a day earlier – Thursday, Feb. 20 at 5 p.m., affecting many February vacation tournament schedules. The Division 1A (Super Eight) tournament also will be selected and seeded that evening, while all other tournaments will be seeded the following day.