The Minnesota Junior Hockey League playoff tournament is set.
The Royales will get a first round bye for the weekend of March 7-9, as the eighth-seeded St. Louis Frontenacs was excused from the playoff tournament by the Great Lakes Division.
“We had a team decide to not spend the money to come up and get their butt kicked,” said MnJHL President Ralph Hayne.
In a February 6 meeting of the divisional general managers, a motion was made to give the top team in the division a first-round bye. The motion was passed 6-2. According to a general manager who wished to remain anonymous, the motion was not proposed by either MQT or St. Louis.
“The Frontenacs did not forfeit and did not back out,” said Frontenacs General Manager and Head Coach Kory Haywood.
Minutes of the meeting were not available to MQT Social Scene.
The Frontenacs were the worst team in the MnJHL, recording only one win this season. They were also the worst team in the Great Lakes Division last season, but competed in the playoffs. St. Louis lost 6-1, 5-1 to the Wisconsin Rampage.
Hayne said there are no league-wide rules that can prevent a division from allowing a team to back out of the playoffs.
“(The MnJHL) had never had a decision to not play, so there are no rules to sanction that team in any way or form,” Hayne said. “We can express disappointment but the rules doesn’t stop it.”
According to Hayne, the Great Lakes Division retains some independence in their decision making. The division was once the Great Lakes Hockey League and was absorbed into the MnJHL before the 2012-2013 season. The former Great Lakes League used a playoff format that only included the top four teams, while the MnJHL has always included each team.
“We’re merging two cultures, so there will be changes to procedure in the future and consequences to arbitrate that,” Hayne said.
For MQT, the extra bye is another break for the team. The Royales finished their regular season on Feb. 23 against the Tri City Icehawks, while four other teams wrapped up their season this weekend. Now with the unexpected bye, MQT will have 19 days between games. It will be the second-longest gap between games this season with the league taking a 33-day break for Winter holidays.
According to Royales Head Coach Mike Stanaway, MQT is trying to take the changes in stride and focusing on healing and resting. However, the team is apprehensive about the additional breaks.
“Our team is best when we are constantly going so getting a good start to game our home series is going to be a big deal for us,” Stanaway said. “That can come into play when looking at a best of three series; it is important for us to not to fall behind early. That will be a challenge with the long break.”
The rest of the division will compete in a best of three series. Playing in the first round will be rival Illiana Blackbirds in the second seed and will play the Wisconsin Rampage in St. John, Ind., the Central Wisconsin Saints will host the Wooster Oilers in the three-six matchup and Fort Wayne and Tri City will play in the four-five series.
The teams will be reseeded after the first round and the lowest remaining seed will travel to MQT. The Royales could play any team except Illiana and Central Wisconsin. MQT went on the road and demolished the Rampage 33-4 through the three-game series on Feb. 14-16. Wooster was 1-5 for the season series, winning 5-4 at home on Jan 31. Fort Wayne has the best goal differential against the Royales in the league as each team swept their home series. Tri City was the only team to win in MQT this season.
Great Lakes Division
1. MQT Royales
2. Illiana Blackbirds
3. Central Wisc Saints
4. Fort Wayne Federals
5. Tri City Icehawks
6. Wooster Oilers
7. Wisconsin Rampage
8. St. Louis Frontenacs
In the Minnesota Division, the Dells Ducks took the title with 80 points. The team had a league best record of 39-5-0-2. All eight teams in the Minnesota division are in the playoffs. The Ducks are coached by former Northern Michigan University goaltender Bill Zaniboni.
After two series in both divisions, the two remaining teams on both sides will play a round robin tournament in Oregon, Wis. on March 21-23. The top two teams will advance to the USA Hockey Tier 3 national championships. In case of a tie, head to head in the round robin would be the first tiebreaker. The round robin is held in a neutral site.
The round robin is another new facet of the league playoffs, due to an unexpected additional bid to the national championships. The MnJHL’s second bid was awarded after the season schedule was assembled.
“The league season would have been backed up by one week to provide enough time to do playoffs,” Hayne said. “If we would have played the tournament normally, the teams would have finished their playoffs on Sunday or Monday and report to nationals on Wednesday.”
Brice Burge is the Managing Editor of MQT Social Scene. He can be reached at briceMQT@gmail.com.