North and Tartan to play co-op girls’ hockey next season

Tartan sophomore Cali Pearcy (24) scores against North High junior Marit Larson (33) during home action last season. The Titans won 3-0 Jan. 20. Little did they know, they’d be joining forces next season as the two teams consolidate into one team. (Linda Baumeister file photo)
Tartan sophomore Cali Pearcy (24) scores against North High junior Marit Larson (33) during home action last season. The Titans won 3-0 Jan. 20. Little did they know, they’d be joining forces next season as the two teams consolidate into one team. (Linda Baumeister file photo)

To some folks the "State of Hockey" in School District 622 is in trouble

In what one might well call a drastic move, Tartan and North high schools' girls hockey teams will combine as one for the 2015-16 season.

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District made the decision as a result of dwindling numbers in both schools' youth feeder systems, but especially to the North area girls youth hockey programs.

This news is especially startling since it comes after the Tartan girls had an outstanding season in 2014-15. They won more games than any other Tartan team in recent history when they finished with 16-victories.

Only one other year did the Tartan girls enjoy a season with 16 wins, but that was when they were originally combined with North during the early years of girls' hockey competitions in the 1990s.

"My perspective is that it's just a sad day," stated former North coach Bill Halbreder. Now retired, Halbreder took over the girls hockey coaching duties for a time during his career in School District 622.

Previously, Halbrehder was the North boys hockey coach and the school's activities director.

He later continued to support girls hockey as the chairman of a statewide girls high school hockey organization.

Halbreder lamented, "Being part of girls hockey from the beginning, as I look at it, it will be a pretty hard thing for it to return.

"When we first started we went with — now North girls hockey coach- Allie Thunstrom to the grade schools [in District 622] trying to drum up interest in the sport. Now there are just not the numbers.

"Hockey is just an expensive sport. There are the changing demographics [in District 622], and as I see it, it is up to the local associations to raise the interest in hockey. But it doesn't seem that people have an interest in changing things in the sport."

Halbreder also was the soccer coach of a combined North and Tartan boys team when soccer was a fledgling sport in District 622. So he has experience getting two sports programs — boys soccer and girls hockey — off the ground in the school district.

"At that time the goal was always to give them enough interest to be able to field teams on their own. Now, I don't think there are the tools to promote enough interest to bring the sport [of girls hockey] back at both schools."

He added, "I like to see opportunities for the kids today as being the same opportunities as we were able to give the kids in the past. I'm not mad about the situation. I'm just really sad."

Making the change is not an easy process

There are many logistics to making a change as major as this. Such things as transporting the players from one school's arena to the other need to be worked out. Practice times have to be adapted.

The kids themselves have to go from being archrivals to becoming teammates. There are game schedules that need to be changed, and where and when games will be played.

The coaching staffs will also have to be adjusted. The head coach at Tartan, Nick Fuerst, along with the North head coach, Thunstrom, will be co-head coaches of the newly combine team.

Then there is the problem of acceptance by the teams in the Metro East Conference.

The first proposal to combine the teams from activities directors Bryan Munter of Tartan and Jed Helwig of North was turned down by the other MEC activities directors. Only Helwig and Munter voted in favor of the plan.

But then came a recent announcement by the governing board of the Minnesota Girls' Hockey Association that the age classification for eligible girls would be changed from14 to 15.

That meant that many girls who normally would play on their area high school team could continue to play with their junior hockey clubs.

That would likely impact Tartan and North's ability to continue separate girls hockey programs. North already was considering playing without a junior varsity program due to declining participation. 

With the announcement of the change in age classification, it meant both teams being able to have a JV squad was in jeopardy.

Which brings us back to the process of the Metro East Conference allowing North and Tartan to have a combined varsity team (the NorTans). Helwig and Munter resubmitted their proposal, and this time, in their wisdom, the other AD's recognized the two schools' predicament, and they voted in favor of the cooperative team.

But, in their lack of wisdom, the MEC AD's also added the stipulation that the NorTans could not win the conference championship.

The proposal then had to be approved by the Minnesota State High School League, which eventually occurred.

And thank goodness the MEC AD's don't have influence enough to affect the decision by the MSHSL, so the NorTans can participate in the sections and possibly win a berth in the MSHSL Girls State Hockey Tournament this winter.

Quick takeoffs

Congratulations are in order to TARTAN boys cross country runner SAM NOFZIGER who finished 22nd in a field of 176 participants in the Nov. 7 State Class AA Cross Country race. Also to girl racers, HANNAH O'BRIEN of NORTH (66th of 176) and to TARTAN's CLAIRE CATER (91) and PAIGE CATER (125) . . . Hey RUTH, you hang in there!

Wally Wakefield can be reached at or at 651-748-7826.


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