New Jersey high school team in championship after top player ruled out by playing in USHL
The committee upheld a ruling that Egor Barabanov didn’t play in 50% of the team’s games, a requirement for player postseason eligibility in ice hockey. He had a 10-game stint with Sioux Falls.
Ridge will have to defend its Public A state title without its best player.
Last week, the NJSIAA’s Executive Committee upheld the Controversies Committee’s decision to disqualify junior Egor Barabanov from participating in the 2023 Public A state tournament. It’s a move that makes folks at Ridge question whether the NJSIAA understands high school hockey — particularly the way hockey is different from other sports in how elite players advance to levels beyond high school.
The committee upheld a ruling that Barabanov didn’t play in 50% of the team’s games, a requirement for player postseason eligibility in ice hockey.
Ridge faces Hillsborough on Monday night for the state Public A championship.
According to Ridge athletic director Rich Shello, Barabanov, who was a second-team All-Public A honoree in 2022 with a Ridge team that won the Public A championship, withdrew from school between Nov. 21 and Jan. 3 to accept an invitation to play 10 games with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.
I think it shows that (the NJSIAA doesn’t) know very much about high school hockey.
The USHL is the United States’ premier junior hockey league and often is a stepping stone toward a collegiate and/or professional career for young players. In 2022, 57 players from the USHL were selected in the NHL Draft.
Under NJSIAA rule, players must appear in 50% of their team’s regular season games, up to and including the cutoff date of Feb. 13, to be eligible for the state tournament. The rule clearly is intended to deter teams from fortifying for the postseason with short-term “ringers,” star players whose affiliation with a high school team is minimal compared to their affiliation with one or more club teams.
But the rule, specifically Section 16 of the NJSIAA’s Regular Season Rules document for the 2022-23 season, is written to include some caveats and a big possible exception: “This means a student must play in at least 50 percent of the school’s games up to and including the cut-off date while he/she was properly enrolled and eligible at said school according to NJSIAA regulations Extraordinary circumstances (i.e. injuries or participation on US National teams) will be reviewed on a case by case basis for the purposes of this clarification (sic).”
In 10 games for the Stampede, Barabanov registered an assist and had two penalty minutes.
Ridge was counting on those exceptions for Barabanov, who played in eight of a possible 13 games (61.5%) between his reenrolling with the school and the state tournament cutoff date. But the Controversies Committee ruled 2-1 in January that Barabanov’s stint with the Stampede was not an “Extraordinary circumstance,” and the Executive Committee overwhelmingly affirmed that decision on appeal.
“We were obviously disappointed in the decision to disallow him to play in the state tournament,” said Shello. “He’s been a member of the team for three years. He had what we felt was a very unique opportunity to play 10 games in the USHL, where he had to withdraw from school to go out there to South Dakota for a month. You’re certainly not going to hold a kid back from an opportunity like that.”
The NJSIAA did not return multiple calls from NJ Advance Media asking for comment and for clarification for its definition of “Extraordinary circumstances.”
Barabanov, a Penn State commit, has 13 goals, eight assists and 21 points in those eight games for a Ridge team that received the second seed in this year’s Public A tournament.
“I think it shows that (the NJSIAA doesn’t) know very much about high school hockey,” said Ridge coach Tim Mullin. “That’s what that shows. The NJSIAA is pretty ignorant about high school hockey for them to not let him play.”
Added Mullin, “to be asked to play 10 games (in the USHL) as a 16-year-old is definitely extraordinary. I don’t know what else could be more extraordinary than that.”
Mullin is likely referring to the fact that high school ice hockey is an outlier when it comes to advancing players to the collegiate and professional levels.
Other sports see students go directly from high school into the college ranks.
That type of direct jump is incredibly rare in hockey. The more common move is for high school players to participate in the USHL for a season or two and then join a Division 1 collegiate program. Current Devils star Jack Hughes was the first player to have made the direct jump from the USHL to an NHL roster.
The United States National Team Development Program has its own team in the USHL, which is actually split between U18 and U17 rosters. The U18 team plays 25 games against USHL squads, while the U17 team plays 35.
Barabanov was playing against the same competition he would have had he been on one of those two U.S. national development teams, which presumably would have been deemed an “Extraordinary circumstance,” given the specific language about the “national teams” in Section 16. Since he wasn’t actually on the development team, Barabanov didn’t get the benefit, despite going to a team in the same league as two of the most prestigious national teams in the country for players 18 and under.
Invitations to participate with USHL teams are rare, but there were others this season.
Northern Highlands senior goaltender Daniel Moor missed a week of play From Feb. 4 to Feb. 12 to practice with the Omaha Lancers.
“I’m not on the (Controversies Committee) but ice hockey is a different sport than any other in the state of New Jersey,” said Northern Highlands coach Jason Beswick. “If you want top players to stick around and play high school hockey, (Barabanov’s situation is) something they should probably look at considering going forward.”
Barabanov, despite not being able to play, will be able to be around the team and can be on the bench.
Ridge began its state-title defense on Thursday with an 11-1 win over West Orange.
“I think the logic stinks,” Mullin said. “I think the whole freakin’ thing stinks.”
Brian Bobal may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianBobal and on Instagram @BrianBobalHS . Like NJ.com High School Sports on Facebook .
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