Denfeld News

Dec. 6, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Section realignments separate region's rivals
By Rick Weegman

In the odd manner that the Minnesota State High School League structures its boys hockey sections, Duluth Denfeld is closer to St. Cloud Cathedral and North Branch than it is to city rivals Marshall and Central.

Once the Section 5A playoffs roll around in February, the Hunters’ playoff opponents will include teams from just outside the metro area and others from central Minnesota. Marshall and Central were moved to 7A when realignments for the 2007-08 and 08-09 school years were formulated last winter.

“To me, I would like to see all of the Duluth teams in one section,” Denfeld coach Kevin Smalley said. “Some people might not agree with me, but I think that would have made more sense.

“It would be beneficial for the whole community to watch us play, especially in the playoffs against each other.”

Defending Class A champion Hermantown made the switch from section 7 to 5. Denfeld ended the Hawks’ 32-game unbeaten streak last week, setting the stage for a potential rematch in the section playoffs. Still, it’s not a panacea for coaches like Smalley.

“Hermantown is an elite program and they’ve proven their point with what they’ve accomplished in the last few years,” he said. “That’s an added bonus for our section, but when you start losing teams like Central and Marshall, it’s just a tradeoff.”

With Hermantown leaving Section 7, it also puts a damper on what has become one of Northeastern Minnesota’s best interconference matchups: Hermantown vs. Hibbing. The teams met six straight years in the playoffs, Hermantown winning the last two after Hibbing’s early success.

“The first couple of times it was just like another game,” Hibbing coach Mark DeCenzo said. “Nobody got too emotional about it. But now, over the last few years, it’s become more heated.”

DeCenzo said he wants his players to have a feel for rivalries against the good programs, something they can’t have with teams like Marshall — who they don’t play in the regular season — and teams that are moved out of the section every two years.

“A lack of continuity takes away from rivalries,” DeCenzo said.

Duluth Heritage Center should solve ice crunch

Playing games against teams such as Cloquet-Esko-Carlton or Grand Rapids isn’t Duluth East’s toughest opponent during the hockey season. Finding ice time is.

During the peak of winter, the Greyhounds, whose home base is the DECC, often head to faraway rinks in order to practice. They’ve played games at the SAHA rink in Superior and practiced as far north as Hoyt Lakes Arena, a 90-minute bus ride one way.

When they’ve been able to skate at the DECC, practice times range from as early as 6 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m.

“It’s been a nightmare,” East coach Mike Randolph said.

That same nightmare has affected Denfeld and Central, Duluth’s other public schools that call the DECC home (Marshall plays at Mars Lakeview Arena).

That should change soon with the completion of the Duluth Heritage Sports Center. Delays in construction, however, mean that it’s unlikely any varsity hockey teams will be able to use the arena before the end of the season. Regular-season games, which were scheduled to be played there at the beginning of January, have been rescheduled at different sites.

“Hopefully, if we’re still playing in March, we can practice there and christen it with our Denfeld boys,” Hunters coach Kevin Smalley said. “This is something we’ve been waiting for. Ever since I was in high school [at Denfeld], back in ’77 through ’80, we never even had a locker room [at the DECC].”

Playing and practicing at the DECC has been problematic. Besides scheduling conflicts with the Minnesota Duluth hockey teams, the arena often stages weeklong events, such as the Duluth Boat, Sports and Travel Show, that prevent high school teams from competing at key times.

“With the Heritage Center, hopefully we’ll have a home venue where they won’t be taking away the ice when we need it,” Randolph said.

Though the arena will be used by the three schools, the proximity of the Clyde Iron site at 29th Street and Michigan Street in West Duluth might give Denfeld the appearance of a home venue. Smalley hopes the arena, designed to hold about 1,400, will be similar to those on the Iron Range, which he believes leads to more intensity than in the spacious 5,333-seat DECC.

“It’s exciting to know when we play, it could be a tough ticket to watch high school hockey,” Smalley said.

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