June 12, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Questioning the Rules Change Proposal

Many Coaches Left Irate Over One in Particular

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

What may have seemed an interesting new wrinkle on the surface, will have widespread ramifications on the ice — and coaches are not happy.

You don't expect monumental landscape-changing rules to be enacted in college hockey, and the ones that have been proposed by the Rules Committee — and likely rubber-stamped by the larger NCAA committee — are mostly not, though they will have some interesting ramifications on the game.

But then you have the change that will eliminate legal icing during a penalty kill. That doesn't seem monumental in the big picture, but in hockey terms, that is a pretty radical mindset shift. Think about it — more 5-minute majors for contact to the head (another of the rules changes), and no ability to ice the puck during the kill.

It's not just eye-raising, it has many coaches irate. There was almost near-universal disagreement with this proposal when it was mentioned to coaches earlier this year. Yet the Rules Committee went ahead and enacted it anyway. It seems bizarre that the Rules Committee would do this, especially since this rule has never been tested anywhere.

A few years ago, rules changed across most levels of hockey, making it so that you couldn't change players on the ice if your team took an icing. This has been widely hailed as a positive change. But if you combine that rule with this new idea, it means that players may have be on the ice killing penalties for an entire two minutes.

“I’ve been in college hockey for 18 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore told the Grand Forks Herald. "It was almost unanimous for the entire coaching body. How can the committee overturn the entire coaching body? I think it’s sad, the lack of respect that the committee had for the coaching body. ... We didn’t spend any time even talking about it because it was so radical. We just voted 12-0 (against it, among the WCHA coaches) and moved on.”

North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said he hopes to lead a movement to change this.

“It’s quite a shock,” Hakstol told the Herald. “I haven’t said much, but I’m going to speak my mind on this. I’m upset about us not having a say in it as a Division I coaching body. On a national basis, we were very strongly against it, if not unanimously against it."

What you could foresee happening — same for the 5-minute major for contact to the head, too — is referees just letting more stuff go. A penalty call late in a game would be much more penalizing than it is now, so with referees reluctant to call it, you'll see "anything goes" hockey.

The Rulebook can be altered every two years, so anything implemented this offseason, would need to wait two years to be changed again.

Meanwhile, if a team scores during a delayed penalty, it will still get the 2-minute power play. That's another thwarting of long-standing hockey tradition, right there. Mentally, the concept of "delayed penalty -> goal -> no power play" is so ingrained in the culture, it will just seem weird to be different.

The intention, clearly, was to open up offense more — and the contact to the head change will do that as well, even if it's not the intention of the change. But adding more goals and "opening up the offense" are two different things. I have never been a fan of using power plays to increase offense. Power plays are actually more boring than watching 5-on-5 hockey. A goal, in and of itself, is fun, but the excitement of hockey comes in the non-stop play, banging and scoring chances.

As I wrote back when college hockey decided, about five years ago, to seriously crackdown on obstruction — the goal is not to increase power plays; the goal is to, hopefully, cause players to think twice about taking the penalties, and thus open the game up during 5-on-5.

These rules changes do nothing to help open the game up. They merely make it more likely you'll score a power-play goal. So it not only has upset coaches, but it doesn't really do anything anyway.

Meanwhile, changing the "obtainable pass" rule seems contradictory to all of that. That's the rule put in a few years ago that gave the officials discretion to wave off icing in cases where they believed a pass attempt was being made. Even if the pass missed the mark and went all the way down the ice untouched, icing could be waved off. Seemed like a good idea to open things up.

That change is mitigated, however, by the change to "hybrid icing." Basically, if the offensive player has a step on the defender, at least, by the time they reach the offensive-zone faceoff dots, the icing is waved off. Perhaps the committee figure that both this and "obtainable pass" were not necessary.

Just as interesting are the changes that were not made. Nothing was changed about the overtime rules. The CCHA is still free to use a shootout, and no uniformity was imposed. Other ideas — like going to 4-on-4 in overtime, and so on, were all discarded, perhaps because there is no consensus about what to switch to.

Same goes for the referees. There was talk of against switching off the 2-ref, 2-linesman setup there is now, back to something where only three officials would be on the ice. But this also was left as is. The NHL has gotten accustomed to have two referees, but I still don't think it's best for the college game.

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