A week ago, the Little Falls hockey team won the state Class A consolation championship, one of only six hockey teams in the entire state to end their season with a win. This was a truly stellar achievement, but some fans reacted oddly.
Because the Flyers, under the guiding hand of head coach Tony Couture, have built an outstanding program, those fans think state tournament trips are to be expected. However, just because in recent years Little Falls has gone more often than not, the achievement is by no means routine and never easy. Of course, everyone wants to win that elusive state championship, but that in no way makes what was accomplished insignificant.
Others have taken to complaining that the rink isn’t level. Indeed, of the eight Class A entrants, only four were public high schools.
This year’s champion, St. Thomas Academy, is a private school, and it whipped the Flyers, 7-0, in the opening round. Some fans accuse the Tommies of recruiting, and, maybe that happens, but we don’t really know, and by turning to excuses, we set ourselves up for future failure.
Some say, “Why try?” if the cards are stacked against us.
The real issue in high school athletic team success is, for lack of a better term, “population density.” If the metro area has, say, 50 high school hockey teams, with open enrollment and many private schools, then the best 1,000 high school hockey players in the metro area can find a team to play on. And those players come from a population of 3 million.
The Flyers, on the other hand, draw their 20 players from a county of only 33,000 souls. Do the math, and it’s clear that the likelihood of better athletic talent ending up on a metro team is higher than on an outstate team. Forget about recruiting; it’s the population base.
The State High School League divides schools into classes by enrollment, and that’s not the same as population density.
However, that doesn’t mean the Flyers can’t compete. Desire and teamwork can trump talent.
That’s why we should never take it for granted when a Morrison County team makes it to state, and why we should be especially proud when our guys win two out of three down there. The Flyers topped private schools from Duluth and Rochester in the consolation rounds (Do they recruit?), and deserve only accolades, not sour grapes.