Outstaters have tough fight to get youth hockey tourney back from metro
The news that Tony Dorn Jr. received April 27 was both disappointing and bizarre, he thought.
Although Thief River Falls was deemed fit to host Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and the World Junior Championship by the IIHF just three years ago, the city was getting the Minnesota state Bantam A tournament taken away.
"It caught us by surprise," said Dorn, president of the TRF Amateur Hockey Association.
Minnesota Hockey voted 17-7 -- narrowly receiving the two-thirds majority it needed -- to change all A-level youth state tournaments to the immediate metro Twin Cities area.
The idea was to have five state tournaments going on at the same time with all of the championship games in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center on Sunday.
Area youth hockey officials say they were surprised and upset over the results of the vote, and throughout the next two months they rallied behind Bemidji's Mark Elliott to get the vote rescinded.
It was a process that involved heated discussions, and it caused a split among directors in Minnesota Hockey.
"This was the most difficult thing with hockey that I've ever done," said Elliott, the District 16 director who has been with the organization for 17 years. "I made some enemies out of it, but I don't care. They weren't very good friends or acquaintances anyway, and they weren't doing the right thing for the kids."
Proponents for the one-site tournament say there are several benefits.
It would give some youth hockey players a chance to play in an NHL arena, sponsorship opportunities could arise and television was a possibility.
"Please understand that the idea for a one-site event was generated as an opportunity for our youth," Minnesota Hockey wrote in a release.
Local officials disagreed, though. Many of them said they didn't even know there was going to be a vote on the issue when the organization met April 27 in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
"None of us from the local association really knew anything about it," Dorn said. "We didn't know it was an option. We found out after the spring meetings that it (the change) was on."
Dorn and Thief River Falls had the most to lose initially. The town was scheduled to host the 2009 Bantam A tournament, but the vote called for all state tournaments starting this spring to be moved.
"They were not only shocked but also dismayed," Elliott said. "They had known for a while that they were going to get this opportunity. They were putting in hours to get ready, doing the job they were supposed to. Then, to be told that you're not going to get that opportunity. . . . it's very upsetting.
"All of the sudden they get slapped in the face by an organization they send a lot of money to be a part of."
Rallying for change
Elliott led the charge in pushing for the vote to get rescinded.
He represented not only Thief River Falls in the fight, Dorn said, but all of outstate Minnesota.
His argument had a few key points.
First, he believes that when smaller communities host state tournaments, the spotlight is on the players. They get lost in the shuffle in the Twin Cities, Elliott says.
Dorn referred to a recent state tournament that Warroad hosted. It had a banquet with former NHLers Henry Boucha and Dave Christian present to speak to the athletes.
They also point out that the major driving force behind Minnesota Hockey's effort to make it a one-site tournament is the Xcel Center games, which only finalists would be able to compete in. . . . and even that wasn't a certainty.
"They were running into road blocks with the (Minnesota) Wild," Elliott said.
East Grand Forks Parks and Recreation director Dave Aker said it's also a big thing for smaller communities -- not only financially.
"We want to be able to show off our facilities and hospitality in this area," Aker said. "It's a positive thing for us."
After many e-mails and heated discussions, there was a revote last weekend.
Because they had lost the last vote, Elliott and his backers needed the two-thirds margin to get tournaments back to outstate communities.
They got it with a resounding 20-3 vote.
"The other thing that I think opened the eyes of some on the executive board," Elliott said, "was that a group of Bantam A powers in the Twin Cities told Thief to still hold their tournament and they would go there instead of state."
Elliott doesn't believe that this is the end of it. He expects the executive board to try to put together a better package for the one-site tournament.
For now, though, he's pleased with the results, despite the headaches that came along with his campaign.
"I went through a lot of junk down there that no volunteer should have to go through," Elliott said. "I was called names, called a liar, got funny looks, had people ignore me, and at no time was an apology ever offered.
"But that's what the people sent me down there to do. I'm happy with the way things came out. I didn't like being treated that way, but we've got guys in the Middle East getting treated a lot worse to give us the chance to argue about little things."