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Benilde-St. Margaret's leaving North Suburban

By DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune, 02/21/12, 6:59PM CST

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Red Knights will play an independent schedule in 2012-13

Benilde-St. Margaret’s boys’ hockey team is leaving the North Suburban Conference and will play an independent schedule beginning next season.

A proposal by other conference teams allowing the Red Knights, a juggernaut program within an uneven hockey conference, to leave was approved by coaches on Sunday. Administrators from the 11 conference schools authorized the proposal Tuesday. Seven voted in favor, three opposed and one abstained.

B-SM activities director Jerry Pettinger said the independent schedule will be tried as a “one-year experiment.”

Going independent permits B-SM, a private school located in St. Louis Park, to schedule stronger nonconference opponents and avoid lopsided results within the conference. The Red Knights went 75-4-2 in seven seasons of conference games. They outscored teams 96-6 in 10 conference games this season.

In past seasons, the Red Knights tried playing some conference teams once. But even that wasn’t enough any longer.

“The competitive balance was still not there so this is one more step forward,” Pettinger said.

B-SM is the latest example of a North Suburban Conference program seeking better competitive balance. Totino-Grace, a private school located in Fridley, will move its football program to the Northwest Suburban Conference for a two-season trial.

The Eagles, winners of six Class 4A state championships from 2003-2010, left the North Suburban Conference after two seasons of scheduling additional nonconference opponents and becoming ineligible for a conference championship.

“Allowing their football team and our hockey team to leave means we go from being in an impossible situation on a given night to a more realistic situation,” Red Knights coach Ken Pauly said. “I think everyone is a winner in this.”

Pauly said his program would partner with North Suburban Conference schools “who are trying to build their programs and want to use us as a benchmark.”

Programs at two of the conference’s public schools also sought better competitive balance elsewhere. North Branch boys’ hockey and Columbia Heights football found better fits among smaller programs. Columbia Heights was the conference’s only Class 3A football program. Next season, the Hylanders will play three Class 3A teams from the St. Paul City Conference and four outstate programs. Columbia Heights was 3-39 in conference games and 7-48 overall.

More change could be ahead for the North Suburban Conference. Chisago Lakes, North Branch and St. Francis are among four schools being sought by the Mississippi 8 Conference.

“It could be a whole new ballgame again if those schools leave,” Pauly said. “But if the conference stays together, I could see this [independent schedule] as more than a one-year deal.”

Most of the schools in the current North Suburban Conference configuration came together in 2005. B-SM and Fridley (Metro Alliance Conference), Robbinsdale Cooper and St. Louis Park (Classic Lake) and Chisago Lakes and North Branch (Rum River Red Division) were placed with existing member schools Irondale, St. Francis, Spring Lake Park and Totino-Grace. Columbia Heights joined in 2006.

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