The Idaho Falls High School varsity hockey team of the Idaho Falls Youth Hockey Association was suspended Monday for the upcoming Idaho State High School Hockey Tournament in Idaho Falls, which begins Friday.
The Idaho Amateur Hockey Association’s decision to suspend the Idaho Falls team from the state tournament stems from the team’s decision to decommit from the USA Hockey National Championship tournament.
The Idaho Falls hockey team committed to participate in the national tournament back in October. However, because of confusion and inconsistency regarding player eligibility requirements set by both USA Hockey and the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association, many of the team’s players’ qualifications were put into question.
Adding to the eligibility uncertainty, one of the hockey players moved to Salt Lake City. Another player was scheduled to visit a college for a baseball scholarship at the same time as the national tournament. And three other players — seniors who no longer had to take full class loads to graduate — fell below full-time student status and were therefore unable to compete at the national tournament.
Instead of taking a gutted team to the national tournament, the team determined that sending only a handful of players would put into question player safety because of fatigue. The team subsequently made the tough decision to decommit from the national tournament.
One penalty for withdrawing from the national tournament, as set by USA Hockey, was that the team had to forfeit its $1,500 deposit. The other penalty was that USA Hockey could reject any team from Idaho wishing to participate in a national tournament next year.
The Idaho Falls Youth Hockey Association thought that was the end of the punishment from withdrawing from the national tournament. However, in accordance with Idaho Amateur Hockey Association’s policies and procedures, the Idaho Falls Youth Hockey Association cannot send any of its teams to a national tournament for three years.
Also, the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association suspended the Idaho Falls High School team for four games, which includes the Idaho State High School Hockey Tournament.
“We want to be reinstated so our kids can play,” said a parent of one of the players, who asked not to be identified. “It’s too harsh.”
Brian Anderson, coach of the Idaho Falls JV hockey squad, said, “We’ve got 11 seniors on this hockey team. This is their last opportunity they’ll have to play competitive hockey, and quite honestly, it’s pretty rough for them because they didn’t see it coming.”
While those with ties to the Idaho Falls hockey team believe being suspended from the state tournament is too severe, Jim DiSanza, vice president of the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association, says the punishment was levied to protect the interests of the other hockey associations throughout Idaho.
“(Next year) if a team from Boise or Sun Valley or Coeur d’Alene wanted to go to a national tournament, USA Hockey could say no,” DiSanza said. “We felt they would be less likely to apply that sanction if they saw us being proactive. ... We have a responsibility to protect the other Idaho teams in the coming years who are younger but may want to go to the national tournament.”
According to DiSanza, the other hockey associations in Idaho feel the same way. After the sanction against the Idaho Falls Youth Hockey Association was imposed, the association asked for the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association board of directors to vote for the reversal of the Idaho Falls squad’s state tournament suspension. The board, which consists of individuals representing hockey associations across Idaho, voted unanimously to sustain the suspension. DiSanza says that at this point there is no way that suspension will be reversed.
While DiSanza understands why the Idaho Falls varsity team is upset at the suspension, he believes the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association had no choice but to further discipline the team in hopes USA Hockey doesn’t punish teams from Idaho who wish to go to a national tournament next year.
“This is about something bigger than if a kid gets to play in the final tournament of the season,” DiSanza said.