Edward Little’s Andrew Clements rushes toward the net as Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse/Hyde’s Henry Pennell, right, lunges in an attempt to knock the puck away during a January game in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The state’s boys high school hockey coaches say that significant changes are needed to save the sport and that those changes need to be implemented soon.

The Maine Principals’ Association’s ice hockey committee doesn’t want to rush into a massive overhaul.

Boys hockey in Maine has experienced a continual decline in the number of participating teams over the past two decades. Twenty years ago, there were 49 teams between Class A and Class B. In 2012-13, there were 43 teams. Thirty-one teams took the ice during the 2022-23 season, and there might be less than 30 next winter.

Also, more and more Maine athletes are going to prep schools or junior hockey instead of competing for high school teams. For example, last year, the boys prep team at North Yarmouth Academy had 17 Maine players, including five from Lewiston and one apiece from Auburn and Turner.

“Hockey families have a lot invested in their kids by the time they go to high school,” Falmouth coach Deron Barton said. “Some of these kids are very good athletes, and they want to play club college hockey, Division I or III college. Even the ones that don’t, they want to have the best opportunity to compete at the highest level if they can.

“We have been losing that momentum.”


In an effort to reinvigorate boys hockey participation, the state’s coaches presented a proposal of ideas at the MPA ice hockey meeting in March. The proposal includes one class with two regions, a Super 8 postseason tournament and a separate state tournament.

The coaches hoped to have at least some of the changes implement for the 2023-24 season. However, MPA ice hockey committee told Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse/Hyde coach AJ Kavanaugh, the coaches’ liaison to the committee, that it needed to do more research before sending the proposal to the entire MPA for a vote.

“I think the committee was looking to look at the structure of ice hockey, but they weren’t willing to make wholesale changes in March to be voted on in April,” MPA executive director Mike Burnham said. “They felt there was more work to be done, and they were willing to work with coaches and school administrators to see that work through.”

When the MPA general membership voted on classification for high school sports on April 27, the only significant boys hockey change was the Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse/Hyde co-op dropping from Class A to Class B South.

Edward Little coach and Class A coaches association president Norm Gagne said the work toward fixing boys hockey should begin now rather than when the state has it next reclassification in two years.

“That’s what really frustrates us, and to say, ‘We are going to look at it again in another two years,’” Gagne, who recently announced that he will return for his 50th year of coaching next winter, said. “Why? What is wrong with doing what we are asking today and get it going? If it doesn’t work or we have problems with it, tweak it, and if we can’t tweak it, then go back to the old way.


“But not to try it or say we will do it in two years — what is it going to be like in the next two years? You are going to vet it again and then we are going another two years.”

Kavanaugh said that maintaining the status quo would be detrimental to the long-term health of the sport.

“All things being equal, we would like to this continue, see progress, and hope to recharge, because if we do nothing, that’s the death to high school hockey, at this point,” AJ Kavanaugh said.


The coaches want to eliminate the current two-class system (see breakdown below) and replace the Class A and Class B state tournaments with a Super 8 tournament and a state tournament, the latter for those not involved in the Super 8.

“We are getting to a point where we need to consider one class,” Kavanaugh said.


Switching to one two-region class eliminates using enrollment as the basis for classification, which the coaches said is no longer applicable to hockey.

“There’s no clear solution right now, but it’s a problem that has to be addressed in the next one to three years,” Bangor coach Quinn Paradis said. “Starting this year and hopefully classifying one division — North and South, not an A and B. Hopefully, that will relieve some of the problems with travel issues for some schools, and stuff like that.

“We have seen in the past there are very good B team schools that can play with the other teams. It’s not based on enrollment, it’s based on skill in hockey.”

Enrollment was a significant part of the discussion at the March 30 meeting.

“I think the agreement was: it’s true, classification is unique, so different than the other sports; it’s arbitrary at this point, it doesn’t make sense to do it by enrollment anymore,” Kavanaugh said.

There is recent precedent for the MPA tweaking the boys hockey classifications. In 2019-20, Class A was changed from two regions to one state-wide classification.


The coaches say that season, which finished right before the global pandemic halted high school sports, was a test run for the one-class format they seek.

Burnham, however, said that Class A’s change to one region was a response to the declining number of teams in boys hockey.


The Super 8 tournament, according to the coaches, will elevate the prestige of the boys hockey postseason to a level comparable to the MPA’s basketball and football playoffs.

“Maine’s own Super 8 championship would showcase the very best high school hockey teams in the state each year,” the coaches’ proposal reads. “Just to be selected for the Super 8 tournament any given season would be considered ‘banner worthy.’

“… This would also give more teams the opportunity to compete for the ‘state’ title, which would become a subsidiary of the Super 8 championship but still be prestigious titles in their own right.”


In the proposal, 10 teams would be selected for the Super 8. The bottom four seeds would compete in play-in games, with the winners advancing to the Super 8 quarterfinals and the losing teams eligible to play in the state tournament.

Massachusetts used a Super 8 tournament to determine the state’s top boys hockey team from 1990 through 2021. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association decided two years ago to suspend Super 8 tournaments until at least the 2025-26 school year — and possibly for good.

According to the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Massachusetts, the MIAA’s concerns included a lack of gender equality, since the only two sports that had Super 8 tourneys were boys hockey and baseball; different postseason formats that resulted in more games than other sports; preferential treatment regarding venues and game times; and bias in how teams were selected for the Super 8.

The Maine coaches’ proposal includes a power-ranking formula to determine the Super 8 participants. It is based on three factors for each team: wins and ties, strength of schedule, and winning percentage of teams defeated and tied by opponents.

The formula is identical to the one used by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association. It was selected by the Maine coaches after investigating several states’ ranking systems, which included running the previous seasons in Maine through the formulas to, Thornton Academy coach Jamie Gagnon said, “see which would most accurately have reflected the top teams in the state in each of the seasons.”

The test run of 2022-23 season in the Pennsylvania formula resulted in a top 10 that featured an even split of Class A and Class B teams.


“The Pennsylvania model was the closest fit and accommodated opponents’ strength of schedule while also factoring in a team’s opponents’ opponents’ strength of schedule,” which Gagnon added, was important to the coaches for a single-class setup.


The Super 8 and state tournament format is also meant to create more parity in the postseason.

Currently, teams play several games against opponents of a similar caliber, regardless of class, during the regular season. In Class A, that means some teams don’t face the top teams until the postseason.

“What they have done, they have crossovers and all these things, so there won’t be a lot of blowouts,” Gagne said of the regular season scheduling. “At the same token … they throw them back to the wolves when it comes to playing in the playoffs.”

Under the coaches’ proposal, teams that want to try to earn a spot in the Super 8 can build a schedule that is as challenging as possible, while those that don’t feel they are on that level can instead face teams of a similar caliber and set their sights on competing for the state championship. Teams also can decline an invitation to the Super 8.


Kavanaugh said the Super 8 tournament has been under consideration since former Portland High School athletic director Rob O’Leary brought up the concept at an MPA ice hockey committee meeting in 2017-18.

“I thought it made a lot of sense for a lot of different levels, as far as creating more parity and enticing kids not to leave high school hockey for other hockey ventures,” Kavanaugh said. “I felt like it made a lot of sense of trying to change the trend of losing teams and more co-ops — all that stuff we have been talking about a few years now. It was something that might combat that.”

When asked, Burnham declined to discuss the Super 8 in detail, but he did confirm that it has been talked about in the past.

“It has been discussed, but there has never been a resolution, but it has never gained the traction to move forward,” Burnham said. “Is that possibility going to fix high school hockey? I don’t know.”


The coaches said they are willing to work with the MPA to make changes to boys hockey, including altering aspects of their proposal.


For example, the MPA wanted the Class A and B coaches associations to become one. In a survey, 27 of the state’s 31 coaches voted in favor of merging the associations.

Gagne said that since the spring he has had frequent discussions with Burnham, the executive director of the MPA, trying to find a compromise.

One thing Burnham questions is if the MPA membership would be in favor of the Super 8 play-in games, particularly the aspect of losing teams being able to drop down to a different postseason tier and resume their seasons.

“Those are the questions that you have to work through,” Burnham said. “The schools and the school administrators who make the decisions need to be involved in those conversations.

“The coaches may have feelings about what they may think works, but we are a member organization made up of 151 high schools, and they are the ones that make the decisions.”

The coaches said they are willing to drop the play-in round, as well as continue to use Heal points to decide the top eight teams rather than the proposed power ranking formula.


Kavanaugh said another possibility is easing into the Super 8 by holding off on the proposed best-of-three series in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.

Burnham said the MPA committee will continue to listen to proposed changes.

“I would say our ice hockey committee is receptive to ideas, but they aren’t willing to implement something just proposed by the coaches,” he said. “There’s a process that needs to be followed, and our hockey committee has been very accommodating and made numerous changes to try to combat the loss of the athletes and kids participating.”


Barton saw firsthand the power of high school hockey this winter through the excitement that Aaron Higgins and Zachary Mitton had for playing in front of their Falmouth classmates after missing seasons to play club or junior hockey.

Falmouth’s Zach Mitton takes a shot on Scarborough goalkeeper Keegan Weed during a Jan. 9, 2023, contest in Gorham. Ben McCanna/Press Herald

“It didn’t matter what was happening this year, (Higgins) had a grin on his face, ear-to-ear, every single day he came in to skate on that ice — games, practices, road trips. He had the time of his life,” Barton said. “He said over and over again, so did Zack Mitton … ‘I don’t know why I went to juniors; this is awesome, I am so happy I am here.’


“It isn’t just the hockey — it’s the experience of playing in front of your hometown fans. We packed our home games, and those guys played juniors and the only people in the stands are their parents.”

Gagne said coaches, MPA and administrators need to work together to figure out what is best for boys hockey.

“We are battling each other when it shouldn’t be,” Gagne said. “Who’s affected by it? The kids are affected by it. If we don’t speak up for the sport and the kids who is? No one else is.”



The coaches’ proposal includes changing to one tw0-region classification for the entire state. Here is how the North and South would be divided:

Camden Hills
Edward Little
Hampden Academy
John Bapst/Bangor Christian/Hermon/Deer Isle
Lake Region/Fryeburg/Oxford Hills
Old Town/Orono
Poland/Leavitt/Oak Hill/Gray-New Gloucester
Presque Isle
St. Dominic Academy

Biddeford/Old Orchard Beach/Massabesic
Cape Elizabeth
Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse/Hyde
South Portland/Waynflete/Freeport
Thornton Academy
Windham/Westbrook/Bonny Eagle

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