January 16, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Between the Lines

Midseason Thoughts and Observations

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Taking a look at some things at the midway point of the year.

* * *

Five-minute major penalties, and the resultant game misconducts, are being called more frequently these days, mainly because of an NCAA-wide crackdown on illegal hits to the head.

This is a good thing, because concussions are the No. 1 safety issue in sports these days, rightfully so. A broken leg is horrible, it might even end a career. But concussions are potentially life altering.

Because of this, referees are told to err on the side of caution, and consequently, are often very quick to dole out major penalties and game misconducts. But another consequence is that, often times, the call is wrong.

This is undertsandable. But that's why we should help them. There is no reason why these calls shouldn't be reviewed. Doing so, most of the time you could clearly tell if there was actual contact to the head.

If the referee still wants to call charging or boarding, that's one thing. But a game misconduct or disqualification, should be reviewed on the spot. This way, players don't get tossed from the game for having done nothing wrong. There are too many ramifications. A major penalty kill, a loss of the player, and/or a suspension is a major blow to a team. And the cost of just checking replay is minimal.

The time has come for this.

* * *

On that note, I'd like to see all concussions reported. I realize there are privacy laws (HIPAA), particularly when it comes to students, so this may be impossible in the NCAA. But I'd like to see it, ideally.

The NFL forces teams to report all injuries, because they don't want to give people with inside information an edge on gambling. In baseball and basketball, teams are not as protective with information, because those are not non-stop contact sports.

In hockey, everyone is so protective of injuries because of fear that the other team will "target" that player's injuries. That's pretty horrible when you think about it, but sadly, it's a legitimate concern, I suppose. The concern is so overwrought now, though, that we've come to the laughable "upper body" and "lower body" injuries.

Fine, whatever.

But concussions are an extremely serious thing that we know now is a major concern across all sports. I believe that concussions should be made public, because doing so will help shine a better light on the problem. The more we know about it, the more widespread we realize it is, the quicker we'll do something about it.

And if there's any evidence of a player targeting the head of someone coming back from concussion, let there be extremely serious consequences to that player — like lengthy suspensions.

* * *

I wrote an addendum to Mike McMahon's commentary about outdoor games, where I gave some counterpoint. So you can go read it all there. But basically, while I agree they have become too much of a good thing, I see no reason to bash them. We may have become tired of them because we see so many, but the people participating are often doing it for the first time, so let them have their fun.

* * *

Here's another thing to stop fretting about: The "commitment" of an 8th grader to Maine. That commitment is worth about as much as the paper it's written on — and since there's no paper, that means zero. And since the school can't comment on any such thing, for all we know the player is exaggerating the commitment level.

There is a legitimate concern, to the extent that it exemplifies further that teams are committing to players younger and younger. But we already knew that, and this is such an outlier, it's not worth taking seriously as part of the conversation.

That said, of course there are still plenty of legitimate recruiting concerns out there. We've talked before about the "gentlemen's agreement" between coaches, not to recruit players who have already verbally committed. This has led to some schools stockpiling players, sort of reserving those players for themselves, even if later they choose not to bring them in. Some Ivies, in particular, have raised the ire of others for this, especially because Ivy recruits don't sign Letters of Intent, so everything is verbal until the student arrives enrolled.

* * *

Like the commitment of an 8th grader, here's a list of the Top 5 other things that mean nothing in college hockey, in order of nothingness:

5. the mating ritual of swans
4. polls
3. non-league shootouts
2. how high to cut the infield grass
1. Hobey fan vote

Just a friendly reminder.

* * *

Speaking of the Hobey, my three-year run on the voting committee is over. It's too bad, but in a way I'm relieved I won't have to hear any more of the sanctimonious conversations about "character." Hopefully, Johnny Gaudreau won't take a leak in public, get frostbite or yell at a small child between now and April — at least, not publicly — so we can just give him the award.

* * *

First thing that happened after Adam Tambellini left North Dakota for the WHL, he scored four points in his debut, matching his season total in college to that point.

Did Tambellini suddenly become amazing again, or do you think playing against younger, less physical players had anything to do with it?

We may be getting used to players bailing, but I'll never stop shaking my head about it. Never mind the idea of bailing on your teammates, which I find bad enough, but it's misguided to believe that leaving the NCAA for the WHL helps your development. Players will keep on doing it though.

Here are some numbers Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald pointed out, comparing players coming through North Dakota vs. players coming through Calgary of the WHL, where Tambellini went. Over the last 10 years, players at North Dakota have played 3,893 NHL games with 798-1174—1972 statlines. Going through Calgary, 2,774 NHL games with 416-822—1238.

As Schlossman also pointed out: "In the past six years, a total of 16 players have left NCAA hockey midseason for the CHL. Only one of them has played in the NHL (Charlie Coyle)."

* * *

Every year, at playoff time, unless you're someone like North Dakota, home attendance goes down. And every year, people wonder why. This mostly comes in the form of a fan from somewhere else, ridiculing said school for being "not even able to sell out a playoff game."

But this happens just about everywhere, and it's a silly old thing to complain about. I worked in the minor leagues, where we had one of the highest attendance figures in all of hockey. But even us, in the playoffs, early rounds especially, saw attendance go way down.

In the pros, this is mainly because of group sales. That's well entrenched in the regular season, but harder to plan for in the postseason. There also isn't as much lead time for single-game sales.

In college, it's often because season ticket packages don't include the postseason.

The other main phenomenon is that the playoffs often fall during Spring Break.

These whims are one of the reasons I don't want the NCAA Regionals to go back to campus sites. The proponents say it will add to the atmosphere. But as I've written before, I feel like being able to go to neutral sites was a step forward for college hockey, and we shouldn't go back.

One of the biggest proponents is North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. But North Dakota is a very rare place where attendance would not decrease, even if they were playing outside on the Red River when it's 20 below.

* * *

It's never fun talking about coaches that are on the proverbial hot seat. College hockey is a small community, doesn't have the same cutthroat nature of basketball and football (though it's seemingly becoming moreso), and these are all people we know and like.

But rightly or wrongly, some coaches will change. I wouldn't expect the nine we saw three years ago, but there's always a couple. It's interesting to wonder about. Probably the two coaches most on the "hot seat" are Ted Donato at Harvard and Scott Owens at Colorado College, and it's probably no secret to either of them.

Donato is a famous alum, was a great player there, and went on to a distinguished NHL career. The program took a chance when it hired him with no prior head coaching experience. After continuing a nice run of NCAA appearances Mark Mazzoleni started, things slipped. Donato actually deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team together last year after losing numerous players mid-season to the academic scandal that hit the whole athletic department. But Harvard is a program that continues to get a lot of top-end talent and can't get over the proverbial hump, and there must be a lot of heat coming from alums and other boosters these days, especially after seeing what nemesis Yale has done.

Owens has been to a Frozen Four, but things have slipped recent for the Tigers, despite some teams that many thought could make long runs. And this year, the bottom has fallen out. Again, the heat may be on from within.

Again, these things may or may not be fair, but given all the coaching turnover in recent years, it's not unreasonable to believe there will be more. Some are more likely than others — though there are also always surprises we didn't see coming.

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