Thursday, June 01, 2006

College Hockey Roundtable

In response to Bruce Ciskie's suggestion of a college hockey roundtable, I figured it's high time to answer these questions from a Techie's perspective.

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

Overall across the WCHA, I'd have to say not really. Now, that being said, it actually has, but not significantly enough to become a problem to the level that it had been in the NHL in recent years. We here at MTU have been blessed with four years of Colin Murphy who could bull his way through almost anything, and four years of Chris Conner, whose blinding speed made it difficult for opponents to catch him, let alone hook him.

I do believe that where the stickwork has increased is among the perennial top-notch WCHA teams. Every team that made it out of their first round playoff series made effective use of their sticks to clog up the neutral zone. If the WCHA officials crack down on it next season, to the tune of the way the NHL did this season, most of that will clear up in a hurry.

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

I think that the WCHA is getting better and better at this every year. The only thing we can really ask for as fans/commentators is that the game be called evenly. Sure, as Husky fans, we see our boys called more often than the Gophers and Badgers, but that's life. I do feel that this past season was the first where, for the most part, the calls were made evenly.

One fact that gets lost in the translation around the Houghton, MI, area is that the WCHA is filled with young referees. It's going to take some time for them to get acquinted with how the league functions. The improvement from 2004-05 to 2005-06 was a huge step forward for many of these younger guys, and I hope that trend continues in the years to come.

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

My initial gut reaction to this was, "what a stupid rule this is". Having seen it action, I think that the officials have the right idea, but there needs to be a level of discretion. Having a player automatically ejected for his mistake isn't quite the answer.

There were plenty of hits this season that did warrant the ejection. In the heat of the battle, hits like those tend to happen. That, of course, doesn't mean the player shouldn't use his head. However, I think that checks away from the boards, or checks where both players are locked up with their sticks across each other, and both players hit the boards simultaneously are not deserving of the five minute major and immediate ejection.

It's easy to get into a circular arguement here about what should be the way to judge these penalties. The only obvious thing is that the old form of discretion wasn't working. However, the new way isn't really either. Hopefully this will be tweeked into some area in between in the coming seasons.

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?

As long as the NCAA stays away from the shootout, I'm happy. Shootouts as they are done in the NHL are nice, but a poor judge of how talented a team is. Cases in point include the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars. The shootout just doesn't work yet. Expand the NCAA season to at least 42 and get back to me.

I love the expanded offensive zone. Imagine the Gopher or Pioneer power play with all that extra space. I have loved their power plays for years, and I can almost guarentee you that no one would be willing to take a penalty if those guys had the extra room to work.

The icing rule has been fantastic wild card in the NHL playoffs. I've often thought that teams get off far too easy by just icing the puck. Imagine what a difference this rule could make in the WCHA or in the NCAA, especially if it's your team on the offensive, and your tired opponent can't change.

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

Replay had been sorely missed in the college game for far too long. It was great to finally give officials the chance to view goals/near goals in order to make the right call. As we all know, hockey is an extremely fast game, with the puck changing hands faster than Mike Sertich's hair falls out, so it makes sense that calls are not always easy to spot to the naked eye.

That being said, the replay was hampered by the single feed of overhead cameras. The incident in Denver in the playoffs was a great example of how inefficent the system is. There need to be more angles to view. I'm sure that this will come with time. For now, it's just nice to have such a system in place at all.

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

Despite my better judgements, I'd love to see the NCAA adopt a 4 on 4 format to its overtime sessions. With the five minute overtime already seeming short, 5 on 5 for five minutes seems to force teams to clog the neutral zone in such ways that neither team can really build any momentum. Imagine a Conner, a Kessel or a Stapleton with all that extra skating room. Oh how exciting overtime would be!

I also agree with Bruce Ciskie in that we need miced-up referees. With the NHL adopting that policy this season, it became a lot clearer to the fans why certain calls or decisions were made. Communication on this level would help even the most attentive fan, even myself (I've played hockey nearly 22 seasons and I still don't always know why certain calls are made).

I think in general, many great strides were made in the game last season. I can only hope that this trend continues, and college hockey eventually becomes a fantastic breeding ground for NHL-bound prospects so that they don't feel that they must make the jump to Canadian Juniors in order to further their careers.

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