After receiving a controversial bye in the first round of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League (MnJHL) playoffs, the Royales are set to play the Portage Lake Pioneers of the Great Lakes Hockey League (GLHL) on Saturday night.
"With the long break, we wanted to put this game together to help our team keep their edge," said Royales Head Coach and General Manager Mike Stanaway. "We do not want to go into the playoffs with any sort of rust or to have our timing off."
The GLHL is a USA Hockey Senior Elite League, so the same age limitations on the Royales does not apply for the squad. Pete Rouleau is the oldest listed player on the team, born in 1983. The team has many former collegiate and minor league players from teams like Finlandia (NCAA DIII), the Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL) and the former MQT Rangers (NAHL).
According to Stanaway, the Pioneers will create a better experience for fans and players than having to face off against their scheduled MnJHL opponent in the first round.
"This will be good for our players to be challenged against some ex-NCAA and pro players," Stanaway said. "Certainly no disrespect to St. Louis but I think this game will be much more beneficial for our team than playing in the first round of the playoffs."
The Frontenacs were excused from the playoffs courtesy of a 6-2 vote by the Great Lakes Division of the MnJHL. After the decision, the Royales were scheduled to have a 19-day break between their regular season finale on Feb. 23 and the divisional semifinal on March 14.
That decision is just one of the problems plaguing the MnJHL playoffs this year. In addition to allowing the Frontenacs to not attend the playoffs without any penalties, the Central Wisconsin Saints were forced out of their arena after failing to pay the city of Stevens Point, Wisc. over $34,000 in ice time the last two seasons.
The league also adopted a round robin style finale between the top two teams in each division, shortly after the schedule was released. USA Hockey awarded a second bid to the national championships to the league. The round robin will be held at the neutral site of Oregon, Wisc..
Some gameday changes will be made in terms of the fan experience. There will be no ticket sales, but a donation will be available at the door to help offset further playoff expenses. There will also be no beer garden on the mezzanine, but 50-50 tickets and chuck-a-puck appear to still go on. Also the game will not be broadcasted on MSBN. More changes in the gameday experience may come.
Brice Burge is the Managing Editor of MQT Social Scene. He can be reached at briceMQT@gmail.com.