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Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016: Juniors vs. schools battle in hockey revisited

   Leading off today: Name the sport and you'll usually be able to come up a list of options that complement the high school experience. Whether it's AAU basketball over roughly an eight-month span of the season, American Legion baseball to fill the summer or travel lacrosse teams constantly on the move from mid-June through Halloween, there are a lot of options for players bent on specialization.

   Measured by the sheer number of players affected and overlapping calendars, though, two sports stand out for the head-to-head clashes between clubs and high schools: soccer and ice hockey.

   Donnie Webb of Syracuse.com dove into the hockey topic Tuesday morning with a pair of stories that quickly generated dozens of reader comments. The focus was the ongoing struggle between Section 3 schools and youth teams, such as the Syracuse Stars, a Tier I youth program.

   The uneasy truce of past seasons was blown apart this season when the Stars gave players an ultimatum: Play on U-16 or U-18 teams for us or for you high school, but you can't do both. The Stars said 10 players were shuttling between their high school teams and the Stars a year ago during the playoffs. Though the Stars won their state title and two Section 3 teams made their way to state championship games, the demands on players were brutal.

   "Last season was not successful," Stars GM Nicole Kirnan Kelly said. "There were battles all season between the 10 who played and the 10 who were upset the others were missing practices, were run down, and exhausted. A (U-16) team that was highly ranked nationally barely won States. There were players coming back at 2 a.m. to the NYS tournament after driving to play in a sectional game, and the Stars barely won states in OT."

   As the story notes, high school hockey is already squeezed by the high cost of suiting up and the ever-present issue of scheduling ice time. The battle for talent makes the situation even more challenging, especially given that club-based programs' age-group teams provide a talent pipeline for the schools.

   "The Stars and high school hockey have never really seen eye to eye," Baldwinsville coach Mark Lloyd said. "The Stars, it's a higher level. I understand that. But there's a place for high school, a place for everyone. A lot of these kids really wanted to play high school hockey. It means a lot. For the Stars, it's just parents in the stands. For high school, they play with all of their friends and big crowds. It means a lot to them."

   But there are advantages to travel hockey, too, including a schedule of as many as 70 games compared to the 20-game regular season permitted by the NYSPHSAA.

   "Kids on our Stars teams from last season alone earned $1 million toward college because of hockey," Kirnan Kelly said. "This translates to $100s of millions in college and pro contracts in the past 30 years."

   Nearly every player on the rosters of colleges that matter in the sport went through junior hockey first. (It also explains why the average age of college freshman players is 21.)

   The tradeoff? One hockey parent told Webb it's easy to spend over $50,000 just to get through junior hockey before a player even gets to college.

   Looking back: In January 2015, I came across an interesting piece on SB Nation by Jeff Cox, who questioned the quality and excessive quantity of teams in certain areas purporting to be "junior hockey" programs.

   I summarized that column here, and the link to his original column still works. Though it doesn't really apply all that much to the Syracuse situation, it's worth a read if you haven't previously seen it.

   And back in August, The Gazette reported on an interesting experiment by some Section 2 coaches to give hockey players torn between club and high school hockey a new option for participating in both.

   PSAL seeds: The 24-team PSAL boys Class AA basketball tournament will kick off next Tuesday with eight games that will set the round of 16 field. The PSAL announced Cardozo is the No. 1 seed, followed by Thomas Jefferson, Wings Academy and Abraham Lincoln.

   The top four seeds in the 'A' bracket are Frederick Douglass Academy, Telecommunications, John Bowne and Transit Tech. In 'B' the top seeds are KIPP Prep, Fannie Lou Hamer, Uncommon Charter and Medgar Evers.

   The cradle of coaches: Rhinebeck coach Dave Aierstok qualifies as an outsider in the Mid-Hudson Athletic League tournament, which begins Wednesday.

   The other three coaches in the event -- Red Hook's Matt Hayes, Poughkeepsie's Brian Laffin and Spackenkill's Tom

  
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Bell -- all teach at Poughkeepsie Middle School.

   Help wanted: While a chunk of the state deals with Tuesday's blast of winter weather, folks in the North Country are pointing toward spring.

   The Lyon Mountain Baseball Umpires Association and Northern Adirondack Softball Umpires Association are concerned about dwindling numbers in their ranks.

   "We have, over the past few years, seen our numbers get to critically low levels," Robert Meconi told Denton Publications. "We are looking for men or women who may be interested in umpiring high school baseball for the upcoming high school season."

   There are informational baseball and softball meetings set up for this week in Plattsburgh for people who think they might be interested in umpiring -- even for candidates who have no experience.

   First year officials' fees at the modified level range from $66 to $82 per game, depending on mileage.

   Well 'Dunn,' Crystal: Crystal Dunn already may hold the distinction of being the best girls soccer player ever to come out of Rockville Centre South Side -- no small accomplishment considering that Long Island school's accumulation of state championship trophies.

   The 2010 RCSS graduate went on to star at the University of North Carolina and is the reigning National Women's Soccer League MVP. On Monday, she became the seventh player in team history to score five goals in a game for the U.S. Women's National Team, which blasted Puerto Rico 10-0 in the final group match of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship.

   Primarily a defender and midfielder, Dunn was pushed forward as head coach Jill Ellis rested most of her starters. The result was Dunn doubling her career USWNT goal total.

   "If I scored five goals in the last fifteen years, that's a lot of goals ... but if I score five goals that's a problem not with me but the other team," Dunn said with a laugh. "But this is definitely a special moment. I think for me, personally, going forward my confidence is up and hopefully all our confidence is up and we can move this forward in the next game."

   The U.S. will play in the semifinals Friday in Houston.


  
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