Friday, June 15, 2012

Change It Up

Every two years, the NCAA rules committee makes some recommendations on changing the rules of college hockey. Some are smart. Sometimes, one or two of them are banally stupid. Two years ago, the committee decided it might be a good idea to see about calling icing when a team is on the penalty kill. That got shouted down PDQ.

This year, a number of different ideas have been put forward. Some of them are actually pretty solid. Quoting from Ken Schott's blog...
* The committee is recommending that the conferences the option playing four-on-four in the five-minute sudden-death overtime to decide regular-season games. The current format is a five-minute OT, with teams playing five-on-five.
Certainly a worthwhile change here. Not only does it mimic the NHL procedure for overtime, it also has the benefit of making overtime more exciting. Coming off a season where Harvard set an NCAA record for ties with 11 (which would have been 12 if their second game against Yale in the playoffs would have ended after five minutes) in 14 total overtime games, this is a very good idea. The open ice of a four-on-four situation by its nature creates more chances for both teams, and if you're looking for ways to cut down on ties without resorting to the skills competition known as the shootout, this is the way to do it.
* The committee adjusted its rules for when the net is dislodged as the puck enters it. The rule will follow the NHL standard, which allows for some displacement of the net as long as the posts remain in contact with the pegs.
Call this the Union rule, NCAA edition. During the first round of the NCAA tournament last year, Michigan State had a goal waved off because the puck crossed the line while the net was being lifted up by Union's Josh Jooris, even though the net remained on its moorings. The Dutchmen won the game 3-1 with the insurance marker coming on the power play late in the 3rd period and eventually went on to the Frozen Four. Plenty of people thought the Spartans were given the shaft, since Jooris' contact with the net didn't cause the goal to be fully dislodged, the movement didn't cause the puck to go in, and perhaps most importantly, it would have been a good goal in the NHL, but by the rules of college hockey it was no goal. Another smart move that again puts the NCAA in line with the professional standard of the game.
* The committee approved a change that will allow most goals of attacking players' skates, with the exception of distinct kicking motion.
This makes some sense. It'll encourage goal scoring without kicking it into overdrive, and also encourage some physical play in front of the net as defenders try to move screens who can be in a convenient position to deflect the puck into the net. Obviously, you can't intentionally kick the puck into the net - hence, the "exception of distinct kicking motion," but if you're just standing there and the puck glances in off your skate, that can just be good positioning gone right.
* The committee voted to allow a postgame review of disqualification penalties by the on-ice officials. The group requested conference feedback on how best to implement a procedure and guidelines for the concept, but the belief is a disqualification penalty, with the help of video evidence, is an important determination and should be reviewed. The calling official will have the final decision on any review.
Another smart call here. On-ice officials can only see so much, and in the heat of a moment, certain penalties can look worse and certain penalties can look not-so-bad that actually are worse. The solution? Allow the officials to go back to the videotape before a player gets an automatic suspension. There aren't too many leagues where in-game officials are the ones basically handing out suspensions for later games, so if the conferences want to continue to give referees the option of laying down such a penalty rather than simply reviewing individual cases as the NHL does, this is a good way of going about doing it.
* The committee will examine the use of three-quarter face shields. They didn't make a formal proposal, but will focus more on reviewing and collecting data on whether the three-quarter face shield will be safer than the full facemask.
There are a lot of people breathing a sigh of relief that the NCAA is at least ready to consider visors. The feeling is that the full masks not only tend to encourage dangerous play because they make the wearer feel invincible (especially with sticks), they also limit a player's range of vision, which can also make for dangerous play. We mentioned two years ago that additional protection sometimes causes additional injuries, using the concussion differences in football and rugby as a comparison. This may not be a done deal, especially with the NHL likely to require visors somewhere down the road, but it could at least be a good middle ground. Jack Parker, in a speech to the committee, believes that injuries like the one that happened to Travis Roy in 1995, when he was paralyzed trying to throw a check just 11 seconds into his first shift as a freshman.
* Goal judges may become obsolete. They are recommended, but not required.
Eh. This probably won't have much of an immediate impact, as it might simply be laying the groundwork for some kind of goal-line technology in the future. Goal judges used to play a very important role in backing the referee on whether the puck crossed the line or not, but more often than not referees are ignoring the goal judge almost completely (sometimes emphatically). I tend to doubt that we'll see schools go without goal judges if only because fans are used to seeing that red light go on when a goal is scored, so this is kind of a non-issue right now.
* The two-referee, two-linesmen system is now permanent in men's hockey. Women's hockey still keeps the option of the two-referee, one-linesman system.
I'm of the opinion that too many cooks spoil the broth, and the issue of poor officiating has certainly not been  solved by adding the extra official. In some cases it almost makes things more maddening for the fans who watch an official way out of position call something no one else saw, but this was pretty much always to be expected once the experiment began. The likelihood of putting fewer officials on the ice, especially when the NCAA is more and more concerned about player injury, was always pretty low. I was resigned to this from the beginning.
* Hand passes will be made illegal in all zones. Currently, hand passes are legal in the defensive zone. The new rule proposed is that the referee will stop play on a hand pass, and the faceoff will move into the offending team's zone. The offending team won't be allowed to change lines, either.
Wow. That sounds freaking awful. While admittedly not as bad an idea than that who-could-possibly-think-this-was-smart PK icing proposal which would have completely changed special teams strategies, this strikes me as yet another unnecessary rule tweak that moves college hockey unnecessarily away from the NHL standard. I can understand the rationale on this, at least - like PK icing, it's a situation in which you're allowed to do things at one point in the game and not in another. But as far as I know, there's no junior or professional league in the world that does not allow hand passes in the defensive zone. That means as it pertains to college hockey, if this rule were to go into effect, would impact the way the game is played defensively. As well, there are plenty of other situations where teams can't change lines. And to what end? More goal scoring? That seems to be the never ending cause for rule adjustments in the first place. Leave this alone.

There are things I'd rather not see college hockey emulate from the NHL - the trapezoid, for instance, or the elimination of the concept of ties - and there are plenty of reasons to have separation with the pros in some areas, but in many areas it just makes sense to play the game the same way. The rules committee I'm sure understands that the NHL is unlikely to draw its own inspiration from college rule tweaks. They love to play around with new rules at camps and in the AHL. If it's not broke, don't fix it. Fortunately, most of the proposals do seek to fix what could use a fix.

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