Before moving to Wisconsin to begin work at Door County Daily News.com I lived in a rural county in Michigan, surrounded on three sides by Lake Huron with a population of around 30,000 people. Sound familiar? Beginning in October at the horse show arena located at the county fairgrounds, the hockey association would flood the dirt floor every four hours for eight weeks, day and night, to turn it into a seasonal hockey rink. That group has just signed an agreement to build a permanent, regulation size arena nearby. High schools in the area are adopting club teams and the goal is within five years to have a high school hockey team that will represent the county as a whole.
There is no reason that model could not work in Door and Kewaunee Counties. Even having the rink in the old show barn provided it some protection from the elements that is not enjoyed by outdoor rinks in Sister Bay, Sturgeon Bay, or the newly proposed one at Dana Farm in Kewaunee. It operated for at least three months, uninterrupted. In Michigan, high school hockey is not the pinnacle of competition at the amateur level. The owners of the Red Wings and the Carolina Hurricanes run premier club teams which feed elite organizations. The US National Team Development Program churns out the likes of Ryan Kessler, Dylan Larkin, and Auston Matthews. Canadian Juniors, the Ontario Hockey League, have two teams in the state. There's the USHL too and yet, high school hockey is thriving and expanding into areas with similar populations to that found in the Door Peninsula.
Wisconsin already has a strong high school hockey scene and Minnesota is renowned for it. When I was a student at Michigan Technological University in the Keweenaw in the Upper Peninsula, total population of about 45,000 people across three counties, each high school had a team. In fact, each high school had a rink including the oldest in the world as well as the eighth-oldest. Houghton hosts state champions at the Division 1 and Division 2 level, powerhouse programs like Birmingham Brother Rice and Brighton from the Detroit area. That's a ten hour drive. Michigan's Upper Peninsula is much closer to the Door Peninsula than that. In Wisconsin, the Northwoods Conference is filled by the likes of Antigo, Lakeland, and Tomahawk. There is no shortage of teams within reasonable distance to play that offer great competition.
Arguably, given the money that flows into the area from tourism and the established high school scene here, prep hockey should be an easier sell than my old stomping grounds in Huron County, Michigan. With sports participation down, acutely with football in some cases, hockey could be an answer to halting that. It certainly has its fair share of injuries but it doesn't have the stigma football has developed. It can't happen, though, until there are the facilities for it.