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Proposed NCAA Hockey Rules Changes Not Good for Sport

Jun 12, 2010 – 11:00 AM
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Bruce Ciskie

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After a very disappointing NCAA Frozen Four in Detroit, where all three games were blowouts, the college hockey offseason was underway.

During even-numbered years, the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee is allowed to make changes to the rulebook. It's a process that never really ends, as the committee is getting input from coaches and officials throughout the two-year rules cycle.

This year, the changes proposed by the committee have started a firestorm of controversy within the college hockey community. We'll find out in July if they pass, but many fans have already sounded off on the ideas.

According to Inside College Hockey, there are five changes being proposed for college hockey. Two of them -- teams would change ends before the start of overtime periods, and icing would be waved off if an attacking player would reach the puck before a defending player -- are rather mundane and agreeable.

The other changes? Not so much.

Contact to the head penalties would become a five-minute major, along with either a game misconduct or game disqualification.

On paper, this is a reasonable idea meant to make the game safer.

However, referees are not likely to take well to having to kick players out of the game for making contact to the head.

Last year, we saw many instances where referees called two-minute minor penalties for contact to the head. In a lot of those occurrences, the penalty was called even if the contact was obviously unintentional. The message to players, obviously, is similar to the message meant by calling high stick fouls when that contact is unintentional:

Be careful. You are responsible for your stick, and you are responsible for your body. If you hit someone high, you will get nailed for it, even if it's an otherwise legal hit.

Now, you can expect those penalties to become much less common. Look at checking from behind. The NCAA went this same route a few years ago -- saying any checking from behind penalty committed along the boards would lead to an automatic major penalty and at least a game misconduct. The hitting still happens, but it's much more common for officials to call boarding, cross-checking, or some other penalty instead of using the checking from behind terminology.

Expect to see the same mantra from officials now. Unless it's blatant or vicious contact, look for it to be largely ignored or called as something else.

Teams would not be allowed to ice the puck while shorthanded.

You read that right. The NCAA committee has proposed a rule that is used at some levels by USA Hockey. The rule would prevent teams from icing the puck when they're killing penalties.

The normal icing rule would apply. Faceoff in the defensive zone of the team that iced the puck, and that team would not be allowed to change players.

There are a ton of problems with this.

The average Division I team hits on between 17-20 percent of their power play chances. The best teams will get into the mid-to-high 20s, while even the worst will usually top ten percent. If you prevent teams from icing the puck during the kill, you will add a little bit to those percentages, thereby increasing scoring.

But at what price?

What's going to happen when you get late in a 2-2 game? If you think players get away with a lot now, just wait until the referee has to think about the fact that the team he's putting a man down won't be able to ice the puck for two minutes, and that will make it harder for them to kill off the penalty.

Welcome back to the world of clutch-and-grab hockey, where just about anything goes, and the skilled players aren't allowed to show their skill because they're too busy trying to fight through a multitude of stick fouls that aren't being called.

Oh, and enjoy watching players launch the puck into the fifth row. Unlike the NHL, there isn't an automatic penalty (yet) for putting the puck out of play while in the defensive zone. And after that whistle, the defending team would be permitted to make personnel changes.

If a team scores while a delayed penalty is pending, that penalty would still be called, and the team would get a power play.

Dumb.

Basically, it's the hockey version of double jeopardy. A team draws a foul while in possession of the puck, so they pull their goalie for an extra skater. While playing six-on-five, they score. Now, they get two minutes of five-on-four hockey to follow that, because the penalty will be called.

It's another way to increase scoring, because there's around a 20 percent chance the penalty will lead to a power-play goal, and the scoring team gets two for the price of one, so to speak.

Is this really a problem? Do we have a dearth of scoring in college hockey? Doesn't seem like it, and it's not like you'd hear a slew of people in the sport complaining about boring games.

More than anything, this sudden push for more offense seems like a political move. There are some in the sport who have the belief that high-end players are playing major junior hockey in Canada because it's a more skill-friendly level of hockey. College hockey is full of bigger, older players who often graduate at the age of 23, 24, or 25. Those players have filled out physically, and they're willing to play a more hard-nosed, banging style of hockey.

For some 17-year-olds looking to be picked high in the NHL Draft, it might not be as attractive to go to college for that reason.

Are these rules changes designed to get more school-age players to avoid the CHL commitment, and choose to go the NCAA route instead? We may never know, but a case can be made that the NCAA is going this way.

Time will tell if it's the right move, but it doesn't seem like a good idea. There are many things about the college game that aren't perfect, but trying to force rules changes to encourage offense won't fix what is broken.
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