Thursday, June 08, 2006

College Hockey Roundtable Response

Since I’m at work and I’ve got absolutely nothing better to do, I thought this might be a good day to finally respond to Bruce Ciskie’s “Improving the Game of College Hockey” blog roundtable.

Let’s get right to it!

Has the college game truly seen in increase in stickwork in recent years?

Absolutely! And in a lot of cases it’s when the haves play the have-nots that it’s a major problem. The best way for a less-talented team to keep up with a more-talented team is to clutch-and-grab or hook-and-hold. Teams have gotten away with it for far too long (in both the NHL and NCAA).

I also think that since the players all have cages/full shields on, they’re more likely to get their sticks up high because they know chances are that no one will get hurt doing it. It’s not a good habit to get into. I think much more high-sticking goes on at this level than in the NHL.

Do officials do a good job of calling "clutch-and-grab" infractions consistently?

No. I can’t even say how many times this year I wrote in my blog that it seemed like a ref was “making things up as he went along”. They need to make up their mind. If they want to call everything, call it both ways, and actually do call everything. And if you’re going to let them play, then be consistent that way too. Don’t just randomly see a guy put his stick on someone’s hip and call it a penalty like it technically should be, when you’ve let that same infraction go five times in the game.

What do you think of the "checking from behind" crackdown?

Hated it! I understand the reason behind the rule, and I understand that the goal is to get the hitting from behind out of college hockey. The reasoning is sound, but there are inherent faults in a “no tolerance, automatic ejection” rule such as this one.

The first fault was obvious from the first drop of the puck this year, when the Varsity Blues had a player ejected almost immediately against U of M for a hit that was borderline if it should have even been a two-minute minor. At the start of the year, officials were so into the “no tolerance” thing that there were frequently players tossed for hits that were minors at absolute worst. In addition to losing a key player, the team would have to kill a five-minute penalty. That’s not a deterrent to hitting from behind, if players were getting tossed for normal checks. That’s just stupid.

The next fault was that players then realized that they may be able to draw an opponent into a major penalty/ejection by turning toward the boards when a hit was coming. And it worked. Repeatedly. That action completely went against what the rule was designed for. Instead of protecting players by getting hitting from behind out of the game, it was actually putting players in jeopardy because of the huge reward for being hit from behind. Whether Tyler Howells turned away from Jack Johnson on purpose or not, that hit illustrated this phenomenon perfectly. Jack had him lined up, Howells turned and got himself injured in the process, and Johnson was suspended for a game for “excessive roughness” on a hit that was as clean as any you’ll see.

The final flaw came when the referees, too, realized that this rule was stupid. Why eject a player and put a team down for 5 minutes for bumping someone lightly around the boards? They started calling boarding, roughing, cross-checking, charging rather than hitting from behind, so that they could still call a minor, rather than ejecting the player. I can’t believe it took them so long to figure it out that they could call other penalties in those situations. That led to a lot of inconsistency with the calls.

Basically I think this rule—while well intentioned—was a complete Navarre from the get-go.

What NHL rules change would you like to see adopted in college hockey, and which one do you want college hockey to stay away from?

Oh Jesus God, don’t put that freakin’ trapezoid in. Although, with Sauer’s puckhandling ability, Michigan might be better off with him discouraged from playing the puck. I also don’t like the no tolerance rule for any player playing the puck over the glass in his defensive end being given a penalty. Refs should be smart enough to see if a player is doing it on purpose.

I love the NHL rule that doesn’t allow a team to make a line change after an icing call. I think it was absolutely brilliant of them to put that in (though, if you’re going to have that rule, then don’t go to a TV timeout after an icing call).

I would have asked for shootouts, because I think they’re unbelievably exciting, but I agree completely with Bruce’s point about how the college season may be too short to put so much emphasis on a shootout. I wouldn’t be opposed, however, to moving to an overtime-loss-still-gets-a-point format to encourage teams to go for the win in OT. I also love the 4 on 4 in the NHL overtimes.

What do you think of the increased use of replay in college hockey?

Just like in college football, I think it’s great. When it works. I can’t fathom how, with the benefit of instant replay, they can still get things wrong so frequently. When an MSU shot clearly goes through the goal, and the replay clearly shows the puck going through the goal, how does that not count? How do you screw things up after watching a replay?

Also, there’s no point in having it if you’re not going to have overhead cameras at the rinks that have replay. They can’t be that expensive. And again, Bruce is right. If you’ve got a TV camera, use those angles too.

What is one random change you'd like to see made in hockey?

First off, call the dives. Robbie Earl, Andrew Cogliano, etc. You’re embarrassing yourselves out there when you flop around the way you do. It’s my biggest pet peeve about hockey (and soccer for that matter). It annoys me to no end when players dive. Call it, get it out of the game.

Secondly, this isn’t really feasible with all the contract issues involved, but I’d love to see a college hockey alumni all-star game/tournament sometime. It will never happen—we have a better chance of seeing a Big Ten Hockey Conference—but wouldn’t that be cool? Make teams out of the pro hockey players to have come out of each conference/school and have a tournament. It’d be awesome.

The next change involves tar, feathers, and Scott Hansen.

They need a better way of ranking teams whether it’s KRATCH or something else. The Pairwise isn’t cutting it. At one point very late last season, Cornell was something like #10. But had they changed the result of one single game against MSU at the start of the season, they would have vaulted to first overall. That’s an extreme example, but things like that shouldn’t happen. If they had beaten MSU that game, would we have really said that Cornell was the best team in the country, but since they lost there were nine teams better? I highly doubt it.

Lastly—taking a cue from ABC’s Wide World of Sports showing John Elway’s pinwheel against Green Bay in their opening montage and causing me much pain over the years—I suggest that every televised college hockey game for the next ten years open with a shot of Mike Legg’s goal, followed by Holy Cross’s game winner against Minnesota. It’s only fair.

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