HOUGHTON - The ongoing wave of conference realignment has seeped into the high school ranks, as Houghton and Hancock have both recently switched from the Lake Superior to the Great Lakes Hockey Conference.
"This isn't something that just got brought up this year. It's been brought up a couple years," Houghton athletic director Bruce Horsch said.
Both schools were accepted into the league, which already includes Calumet, Marquette, Negaunee, Escanaba and Kingsford, earlier this month, according to RRNsports.com.
Horsch said the main impetus for the move was simply to strengthen scheduling. The Gremlins would like to play in the annual Michigan Interscholastic Hockey League Showcase in Trenton, a two-game commitment, as well as augment a schedule including the likes of the Traverse City schools, Farmington Unified and Fond du Lac, Wis.
Calumet dropped L'Anse and Jeffers from its regular-season schedule after the 2009-10 season and played in the Trenton Showcase for the first time the following year.
The GLHC was itself formed of a schism within the LSC - with the league's original five members beginning play in the 1999-2000 season. Within the last five seasons, both Houghton and Hancock have won the league title twice.
Houghton will add two games with Escanaba, a program that has been trying to get the Gremlins back on their schedule for several years since they last played in the mid-2000s, and a second game with Marquette.
Hancock, which added a second game with Marquette last season, will need to add only a second game with Escanaba to complete the double round-robin.
Hancock Central High School principal and athletic director John Sanregret said remaining aligned with the Bulldogs' biggest local rivals to the north and south was an administrative priority.
"That is, probably ultimately what our intention is, to stay aligned with Calumet and Houghton and be competing with them in the conference. We do that in the WestPAC and it seems like it should be a priority with hockey."
Calumet and the Bulldogs will host Brighton and Novi, who have combined to win the last three Division 1 state championships, next season as part of the biennial arrangement in which the two teams play at Calumet and Houghton in Januaries of odd-numbered years. Hancock will also compete in a tournament at Sault Ste. Marie.
The course of action for the remaining league members, including L'Anse, Jeffers and dual members Negaunee and Kingsford, is not yet complete, though Sanregret said Hancock would be amenable to continuing in the LSC as well, in a single round-robin schedule.
Horsch said Houghton will also continue to play L'Anse and Jeffers at least once annually non-conference.
Horsch said many more schools have expressed interest in playing above the bridge - without requiring a reciprocal game downstate - than Houghton can fit on its schedule and he has forwarded their info onto other local schools.