The Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association found out on Oct. 1 that the Minnesota State High School League had decided to shorten the 2020-21 season to 18 games in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In short order, the MGHCA got to work on providing junior varsity and varsity age girls a new opportunity to play some games before the high school season kicks off. The Xtended Prep League was quickly formed, information was sent out to high school coaches and registration began on Oct. 9.

On Monday, Oct. 26, the first four games of the league were played. There are 54 teams made up of more than 1,000 high school players that are going to play a 10-game schedule through Nov. 29.

"We wanted to give the girls something to do," said Claire Goldsmith, the MGHCA president and co-head coach at Mound-Westonka High School. "With that being said, I think we were not prepared for what we got.

"We put out a survey to all of the coaches to see if they would participate, coach and provide any ice that they could secure," she said of the 120 varsity high school teams in the state. "We got a pretty good response on that, so we moved forward. In about 72 hours, we had 200-300 girls who had signed up. That was a lot. So we wanted to extend the deadline ... by Wednesday (Oct. 14) afternoon, we had over 700 kids signed up and the snowball kept going.

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"At one point we closed (registrations) and there were 850 and we've ultimately ended up with almost 1,100."

Goldsmith estimated that there are three other groups in the Twin Cities metro area and two in northern Minnesota that have also put together organized leagues. In a typical MSHSL season, high school teams play 25 games during the regular season.

The XPL games are taking place at Parade Ice Garden (Minneapolis), Breck School Anderson Arena (Minneapolis), Hasse Arena (Lakeville), Farmington, Apple Valley, Blaine, St. Croix Valley Recreation Center (Stillwater), Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Rochester, St. Cloud, Monticello, Sartell, Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Hutchinson, Willmar and Roseau.

Players, coaches and referees all have to be registered with USA Hockey. Emergency medical technicians are also on hand for all games. High school coaches cannot coach players from their respective programs and most teams have 18 skaters and two goalies and players are paying $205 to play in the league.

Goldsmith said that they tried to even out the talent on teams, but they also have tried to have teams made up of players from regional areas for help with transportation. Games have two 25-minute halves and fans are allowed to attend if they follow the arena's rules.

Goldsmith is also an assistant director of the Premier Prep League, which finished its playoffs on Oct. 25. The PPL completed its 14th season with nine Under-19 teams and five Under-16 teams made up of most of the top players in the state. Players must try out for the PPL, which is not the case for the XPL, and there are a number of PPL players who are also playing in the XPL.

"Because of the high school season being delayed, we didn't want people just doing captains' practices or that sort of thing because it takes away from some of the competitive edge and it's always nice to play in games," Goldsmith said. "A lot of schools are still doing other training things at the same time as this.

"I think once we hit the first day of (high school) tryouts on (Nov.) 30th, I think people are going to be more game ready than in the past. I think that's a good thing for girls hockey to embrace ... I think it's given a lot of girls at the lower levels a chance to play that they might not have normally gotten."

She added that there will be rosters and schedules available on the MGHCA website. For more information on the league, visit https://www.mghca.com/page/show/6003374-xtended-prep-league.

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