- Young girls wanting to play youth hockey don't have many options in the Northwoods. They have to play with the boys teams until high school.
Many of those high school coaches say that's the reason they're seeing such low numbers. The latest team to be caught in the middle is the Rhinelander and Antigo co-op.
Northern Edge's head coach Kevin Sandstrom knew he eventually would have trouble putting together a high school program.
Next season, it's looking like the Northern Edge will have only 11 players from Rhinelander and Antigo.
"Northland Pines just played this whole season with 11 players. So we know it's possible, but it's not ideal," said Sandstom.
This winter he reached out to Lakeland Union to ask about forming a new co-op.
"Right now, our numbers are stable. Therefore, we're very protective of what we have," said Lakeland Union Athletic Director, Don Scharbarth.
Rhinelander could join the T-Birds and then maybe Antigo could join the Wisconsin Storm. But the T-Birds don't want that to happen, at least not now.
"We want to play in a conference, we want to be the Lakeland T-Birds, we don't want our girls sitting on the bench," said Scharbarth.
That meant Sandstrom needed to go back to the drawing board.
"We have exhausted every option with Tomahawk, Merrill, Lakeland about forming one big team or maybe Tomahawk or Merrill coming in to add just another two or three players to make sure we go from 11 to 15," said Sandstrom.
So the Edge has two options before an April 1st deadline. The team can work with what they have, or say goodbye to Northern Edge hockey. Players' parents made their choice clear this week.
"It's been unanimous coming back that we would rather try with 11 players, possibly more with recruiting than split and I definitely think that's the option we're going to go with," said Sandstrom.
Sandstrom knows there is still a lot of time until next season. That means a lot of time to recruit more girls to keep the Great Northern Conference the way it is now.
Scharbarth did add that even though they said no to letting another team join them this year, they are open to it in the future if that's the last possible option.
|Story By: Katie Leszcynski