This week, the coaches in each section meet in smoke-filled rooms to set the seeding for their respective section tournaments.
In most cases, this is now done electronically; in 7AA they literally do meet in a smoke-filled room at Tobies restaurant in Hinckley, a tradition sadly interrupted this season, when Duluth Marshall had the nerve to schedule a game for itself on the sacred Wednesday night.
To avoid sabotage, coaches do not rank their own teams, and the highest and lowest vote for each team is thrown out. The leading controversy this season, as it so often does, comes out of 7AA, where Cloquet leapfrogged Grand Rapids to claim the 3-seed.
The storyline in 7AA all season long was that one of its three big contenders Elk River, Duluth East, Grand Rapids would claim the top seed, and thereby avoid having to play two games against top-flight competition to make the State Tournament.
Cloquet, however, threw a wrench in things. It was a coming-out party for a young Cloquet team, and an exclamation point on a sudden, ugly late-season turn that has an incredibly talented Grand Rapids team struggling to find answers.
With losses to Elk River and Duluth East, they knew they were going to have to go through the Hounds and Elks regardless. For Rapids and Cloquet, the actual difference is minimal.
Backers of top-seeded Elk River, on the other hand, are crying foul.
Mixed in here, one suspects, is a fair amount of frustration over the location of the 7AA semis and final, an entirely separate issue that has also not treated Elk River well. No one out there honestly thinks Cloquet had a better season than Rapids, but two of the factors that have long swung section seeding meetings—record in the section, and performance in the second of two meetings between teams—tipped the scales.
Over in 8AA there was controversy as well, but the reasons were entirely different.
Bemidji had stumbled through the first half of their schedule, with four losses to section foes, before turning it on down the stretch.
The Lumberjacks beat St.
Michael-Albertville, who had been the presumptive 2-seed, in their only meeting, and also avenged an earlier loss to Roseau. Instead, the Lumberjacks were consigned to the 5-seed. That result that does have its own internal logic, as they lost twice to 4-seed Brainerd, but seems awfully harsh for a team that is playing well right now, is against the teams immediately above it, and that most observers would agree is one of the two or three most talented in the section.
Teams just need to find ways to win, period.
But I recognize it does affect things, and I can think of two ways that could remove some of the intrigue: Will Rapids use the 4 seed as motivation? Use an algorithm to do the seeds. Plenty of people have designed algorithms that can spit out dispassionate rankings of high school teams.
I enjoy looking at computerized rankings, but this one is probably the worst of the bunch, to the point where I look at other algorithm-based rankings in creating my subjective ones, but completely ignore this one. Given the finicky nature of some of these algorithms, and the different and ultimately subjective weights they can give toward things like strength of schedule or margin of victory while ignoring raw head-to-head results, I lean away from this option, and instead toward another: Mandate that all teams within a section play each other once in a game that contributes to section standings.
Silly flaps between programs like Eden Prairie and Holy Family, which refuse to play for political reasons, lead to a lot of guesswork, use of competing forms of logic, and grievances.
There is no quality control in scheduling, and the seeding process inevitably suffers. Under this model, teams would play a sort of league schedule where they play their section opponents once. Home venues would rotate by year. Teams could schedule additional meetings with their section rivals, if they so choose; it only makes sense in the case of longstanding rivalries, and especially for the Greater Minnesota teams that face long travel times.
Section standings could then rely on a consistent point system just like a college conference, with tiebreakers such as head-to-head record or goal differential on hand to break any ties.
With the complete death of conference relevance, hockey has a chance to adopt an added dose of sanity. Cloud Cathedral squared off in St. Louis Park.