By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Wenning, a district manager of a technology-services company, says he sees the Stars using a "divide-and-conquer strategy. In business you would call it incrementalism, trying to acquire enough critical mass. I don't know if they can corner the market on youth hockey, but it seems they want to own the lion's share, as much as possible."
As for Holmes' argument that the more skilled skaters present a safety risk to the less accomplished players, Wenning offered the example of a game his team played recently with W.T. White, the only hockey squad in DISD, as proof that unskilled hockey players pose a much greater safety problem.
"We have lost two players [to the ban], but we still have one of the more competitive teams," says Wenning. "Some of these squads are stocked with Rollerbladers and first-time hockey players. The league is so diluted that there are few teams with the haves and a lot of have-nots, and nobody likes getting beat five-nothing, six-nothing. So they resort to what they can do best, which is getting physical. At the W.T. White game [in mid-November], their coach couldn't hold 'em back. The play was so goonish, there were 18 penalties. The officials called the game off with more than three minutes left, and the police were called. The crowd was like at an English soccer match. They were egging the fights on and cheering the violence."
Besides the name-calling hockey parent, the Coppell-Lewisville match was a somewhat more sedate affair. Rumors of a post-game parking-lot brawl never materialized after the penalty-rich game.
Kruger, the Coppell coach, says his team was affected more than any by the new rule. He lost a full line of top players. "I'm loyal to these kids. I've loved working with these kids. My philosophy is that you look at someone who is good and you set the bar. I always thought the idea was to push yourself and set your goals against that example."
Kruger says his faith in the five banned kids -- and some clear wording in the high school league by-laws -- convinced him to suit up the banned players against Lewisville. The written rules, which a Stars attorney handed out to parents this fall, clearly include a "grandfather clause" allowing players who were eligible last season to continue to play this season.
The first of the banned players to play -- Tcheng and two others -- didn't even set foot on the ice until Kruger's team had a 3-0 lead, which grew to 6-0 by the end of the game.
Kruger's protest and reading of the rules got as much consideration as an ice cube in front of a runaway Zamboni machine. Kent Holmes, who holds the titles of president of the high school league and president of the Texas Amateur Hockey Association's high school hockey section, says it doesn't matter what the printed rules state. "The rules are being rewritten. Everyone knows those players are ineligible players. The rules say all eligibility matters will be accounted for by the commissioner, which is me."
Kruger says he learned later that the Lewisville coach was informed even before the game began that Coppell would forfeit if the banned players dressed. He ended up taking as much heat from parents with kids still on the squad as from anyone else, but some came around after he explained the principles behind his stand. "I want to develop a program," says Kruger, "where kids have the chance to learn about teamwork and camaraderie, not about politics that says this guy can play and this guy can't."
Some parents and coaches are so upset over the player ban that they are exploring starting an alternative high school league. The interesting thing is, the Stars have such a monopoly that the new league would have to work through Holmes, who is head of the statewide governing body over such leagues.
Around the same time the Stars were attempting to cut DMHA out of the pee wee tournament in Canada, they came up with some more bad news for the league.
The StarCenter could no longer sell them the six hours per week of ice it had been furnishing -- at about $250 per hour -- in the first months of the season. DMHA would have to find another place for their 80 or so kids to play.
"A lot of strange things have been happening," says DMHA head of coaches Ron Regenscheid, who has been coaching youth hockey in the area since 1988, back when there were a total of 135 kids in the programs. "Now we get this growth, this surge in the number of kids into the thousands, and all of a sudden they want to put us out of business."
In Dallas, where demand for ice time has outpaced the building of rinks, and where most rinks are booked solid, losing guaranteed ice time is a major blow.
What ticked off the DMHA organizers most is the understanding they say they had with the Stars, which was a guarantee of ice for the season.
DMHA president Sparks and others say Holmes made that commitment at an association board meeting in late June. Some DMHA parents and coaches say they had personal assurances from Holmes that the ice would be available for the season, which lasts until April. Greg Kraus, whose son plays for a DMHA team, says he was interested enough in the issue before the season to talk directly with Holmes and was assured the league would play out its season at the Irving center. "For some reason they decided to renege," says Kraus, a real estate investor.
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