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March 1, 2015

Blair hockey wins playoff appeal

by James Sleigh, Online Sports Editor
The Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association (PVAHA) granted the Blair hockey team a playoff berth after the team struggled for a place. The decision came after the team had two other appeals rejected by the smaller hockey governing bodies of the county and state hockey leagues. The ruling made on Feb. 11 followed with a Blair (10-1) 7-5 win over conference rivals DC Stars (9-1).

The issue began in November, when it was unclear whether Blair hockey would even be allowed to play because of a perceived infringement of Montgomery Hockey Conference (MHC) rules. The MHC questioned the legitimacy of Blair's controversial underclassmen "rec" team. As a co-op team that pools players from Down County Consortium schools like Blair, Northwood and Einstein, MHC rules dictate that each school can field no more than thirteen of their own players. Blair encouraged some of its underclassmen to join a non-affiliated team so they could keep their co-op status. Eventually, Blair was allowed to play in the regular season, but the team was not permitted to play in the playoffs. That ruling started the series of Blair appeals which attempted to reverse the MHC's ban on the team.
Blair hockey battles for dominance. Rohan Oprisko
Blair hockey battles for dominance.

According to Mike Johnson, an assistant manager of the team for nine years, the appeals process is a four-step process that sends written grievances to Montgomery County, Maryland, USA hockey and finally PVAHA officials.

According to Johnson, the petition to the MHC director was very one-sided. "The first review before the executive director, we didn't have the opportunity to present any details concerning Montgomery hockey's sanctions they placed against us, so I believe the executive director had inadequate information," Johnson stated. The team submitted a thorough 37-page appeal that addressed the concerns that league officials had submitted to the Maryland Student Hockey League (MSHL), the governing body of all high school hockey in Maryland, but that too was rejected.

Johnson believes that the reason the appeal was rejected was because new faults not mentioned in the MSHL rules were presented at the hearing. "The [MSHL] put forth two additional reasons why they upheld the ruling which were never surfaced prior to the hearing," Johnson explained. Those two items then became the basis of Blair's final appeal to PVAHA officials, which they eventually won.

Senior Blair player Max Kronstadt thinks that the appeal was accepted at the highest level because the PVAHA officials were able to look at the situation from a more objective view. "The reason why we had to get this far is they are less affiliated with the other two conferences, and they saw that we didn't actually break any rules," Kronstadt said.

Prior to the team being registered as a 1A team, Johnson saw that the situation might become complicated for the players and league officials, so he tried to make everybody aware of the steps the team would take. "We tried to make sure everybody understood the options, including the Montgomery Hockey Conference. Some people chose not to believe us," he said.

Next year, the Blair hockey team will try to assess the situation better so they do not face the same problems. The team must determine whether they are anticipating large numbers joining the Blair team consistently, or if this year's numbers were unique. According to Johnson, Blair does not start its formal membership drive until October, so the team does not know if they will have the 13 player cutoff until then. "If it turns out that we have fourteen Blair players we'll go to the other conference and if we have thirteen players or less we'll stay where we are. I think we are in the same position next year as we were this year," he said.

The players were surprised and pleased that they had won the appeal this time, given the pattern of previous attempts. “We were not expecting it, but we are all really happy about it," Blair sophomore Noah Dalbey said.

Kronstadt and the rest of the team were excited for the opportunity to play a tough Annapolis team Friday, but lost by a score of 3-1.. "This is something we’ve wanted since we were freshmen. That's been the dream, to get to a state final and to play a tough team, and hopefully win," Kronstadt explained.



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