The Gardiner and Messalonskee hockey teams played before a near-capacity crowd during a March 2, 2022 Class B North quarterfinal game at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — High school administrators are urging the Maine Principals’ Association and on-ice game officials to go back to the negotiating table in an effort to save the upcoming high school hockey season.

A group of 71 administrators representing schools offering ice hockey across the state met Monday via Zoom to discuss the next steps in an ongoing contract impasse between the MPA and Maine chapter of the National Ice Hockey Officials Association. The group wants to see negotiations between the two sides resume in the coming days in an effort to preserve a 2022-23 season held under the MPA banner.

Last week, the Maine NIHOA chapter rejected a three-year contract that would have called for officials to receive a per-game increase from $78 last winter to $82 this school year. Officials, who are not yet under contract for the 2022-23 season, are seeking an increase to $90 per game — a 15% increase over last season. 

“Everybody is trying to focus on an MPA-sanctioned ice hockey season,” said Yarmouth Schools Superintendent Andrew Dolloff, who participated in the meeting Monday.  “We are really trying to encourage more negotiations between the officials and the MPA. We don’t want either side to think that negotiations are done.”

On Oct. 19, the MPA — the agency that oversees high school sports in the state — informed member schools that the hockey officials’ group had again rejected a three-year contract proposal. Hockey officials originally rejected the contract in April.

The 2022-23 ice hockey season is quickly approaching, with girls hockey teams scheduled to begin practices Nov. 7 . The first regular season games are scheduled for Nov. 26. Boys practices are scheduled to begin Nov. 21, with regular season games beginning Dec. 10.


With that window closing fast, administrators are seeking a mediator in an attempt to bridge the gap between the two parties. Dolloff, who has been tasked with finding that mediator, said he hopes to have the two sides back at the negotiating table “within the next 24-48 hours.”

“I have to be optimistic (that we can see negotiations resume),” Dolloff said. “As an administrator, you’re involved with negotiations like this a lot, and you really see people give their best effort when that deadline approaches. In this case, it’s kids we’re talking about. I think everything wants to make it happen for them.”

A.J. Kavanaugh, the Mt. Ararat boys hockey coach and a coach’s liaison to the MPA Ice Hockey Committee, expressed frustration in the process. He said committee members were not made aware of the dispute until late last month despite negotiations having begun in April.

“There just seemed like there had been a lack of focus on making this more of an urgent issue until we got together as an Ice Hockey Committee in September,” Kavanaugh said. “It was definitely something where I wish, time-wise, we had had more time to work this out.”

The Winslow/Gardiner/Brewer/Messalonskee/Lawrence/Erskine bench fist bumps Jordin Williams after she scored a goal to go up 2-1 during a Class A North girls hockey quarterfinal game last season at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

 In an email sent to hockey schools last week, the MPA defended its stance, citing the 5.1 percent increase in per-game fees for officials as the largest in the past 25 years. The MPA, in the e-mail, also contends that ice hockey officials did not reach out to the MPA with a counterproposal.

MPA director Mike Burnham did return repeated phone calls Monday.


Should no agreement be reached, a contingency plan is in place to offer high school hockey outside of the MPA’s framework. Under such a plan, Kavanaugh said, schools would be able to pay the $90-per-game fee officials have been seeking. It could also see the implementation of a single-class format that resembles Massachusetts’ Super 8.

“Really, the only main thing that would be different with that is who’s organizing the playoffs; the regular season is already in place,” Kavanaugh said. “We know the officials’ price; it’s $90, and they’ve been public with that. One question we had was, ‘Well, if we can come up with the $90, would the officials do it, and the answer to that was, ‘yes.’”

Chad Foye, athletic director at Messalonskee and an Ice Hockey Committee member, cited the Nov. 7 date that marks the beginning of girls practices as the target date for a resolution. Yet he also acknowledged that the realities of the situation have cast a doubt on that fast-approaching date.

“We want to have everything settled by then, I’m not sure if that’s going to happen or not,” said Foye, who previously coached hockey at Cony for 22 years. “We know there are a lot of time restraints and stuff, so we’re working to get it done as quickly as we can.”

The meeting participants, Dolloff said, expressed neutrality in the dispute between the two sides. The conversation, Waterville Athletic Director Heidi Bernier said, was a productive one that she hopes will push the MPA and hockey officials toward reaching a resolution.

Prior to the meeting, there was optimism from administrators and coaches that high school hockey — in some format, at least — will be played in Maine this winter. Even with the current impasse, there is still confidence that a season will take place.

“You have some kids who might be able to do travel or club hockey, but there are also many students for whom that’s not an option,” Dolloff said. “We need to provide an activity for all of these students, and I’m confident we can do that.”

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