Without too many major issues hovering over college hockey, very little news came out of this year’s American Hockey Coaches Association Convention, held last weekend in Naples, Fla.
One of the most contentious issues, perenially, is the selection criteria for the NCAA tournament. After some discussion, the consensus gave a thumbs up to the current system, and no changes are imminent.
There was some discussion about how to eliminate the flaw in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that can cause a team’s rating to go down if they defeat a poor opponent. But there was little, if any, discussion on utilizing a system like KRACH, which eliminates that problem naturally and by definition.
The only significant rule change recommendation was altering the 15-second faceoff to an 18-second faceoff rule. As it stands, the visiting team has five seconds to make its line change, the home team has the next five, and then there’s five seconds to drop the puck. Under the new recommendation, there would be eight seconds for the home team to make a line change.
The recommendation arose from the belief by many coaches that matching lines — normally an advantage for the home team — has become too difficult, if not impossible. Another proposal that would have eliminated the fast faceoff rule in the last two minutes of games and overtime was not recommended.
The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee will vote on the recommendation during its meetings June 2-6 in Indianapolis.
New Hampshire coach Dick Umile was among those heavily in favor of a change. Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone is also in favor, but isn’t sure it will have enough impact.
“I personally think 15 is too short,” Anzalone said. “I don’t like seeing grown young adults scurrying out to a faceoff at 100 miles an hour, and I think fans get more confused. Everyone liked the shorter games, but I’d like to see it get a little more lenient and add some seconds.
“There is no matching anymore, there’s no time. The only way you can match is if you have laptop on the bench. … It’s hard. It hurts a guy like me who’s tying to squeeze a game out.”
Other issues for the rules committee to consider is further crackdown on hitting from behind, enforcing the rule that requires all players to wear mouthguards, and whether or not to change the definition of protected area for goalkeepers. The latter issue had a wide disparity of opinion.
Particular conferences also have outstanding issues, such as expansion possibilities in the MAAC and CHA. The MAAC also has issues regarding the loss of two programs, and the ongoing issue of its self-imposed 11-scholarship limit.
“We talked with the coaches and told them that the ADs will be discussing governance, playoffs, new members, etc. … at the NACDA Convention on June 13th,” said Quinnipiac athletics director Jack McDonald. “I would hope that decisions will be made by June 13th.”
One of the more animated discussions involved the concept of “verbal commits,” when a recruit informs a coach he intends to play for that team before enrolling or signing a letter of intent. Coaches attempted to clarify amongst themselves what the ground rules were in those situations, and at what point does a verbal commit mean it’s “hands off” for all other coaches.
According to Anzalone, there were some recent instances of coaches going after someone else’s verbal commits, which prompted the need for the discussion.
“There have been a number of cases over the years, but there was a few more this year and schools lost players,” Anzalone said. “College hockey has to have integrity.
“The discussion was excellent. It was one of the longest we ever had.”
The result was unanimous approval of a gentleman’s agreement among the coaches, backing up the sanctity of the verbal commitment.
“If there is any knowledge of a verbal commit, a coach is not to call,” Anzalone said. “If you are not sure, you call the coach you think has the commit. If you are recruiting a kid and you have a date they’re supposed to let you know, and you heard he committed to a school, you can still call that day, and when he tells you, [the coach] can say, ‘Good luck.’”
Aggressive pursuit of verbal commits has always been a no-no, but there are interesting borderline cases. For example, when a player verbal commits to one school, then another school believes it can offer that player more scholarship money, should the verbal commit be absolute, or should a coach be able to contact the player and inform him of other options?
“If a kid is committed, he’s committed,” Anzalone said. “The only thing that may ever arise is, if School ‘A’ has committed to a walk-on in March … and School ‘B’ in July, a guy turns pro on their team, and [School A's player] would’ve been the next kid [School 'B' is] recruiting, then School ‘B’ should call the coach at School ‘A’ and ask that it’s OK if I talked to that kid.
“That’s supposed to be an educator’s way of dealing with it. That’s the sentiment of those like [Boston University coach] Jack Parker. If a kid can get money somewhere, we wouldn’t want to hold him back.”
The other borderline scenario is the case of a player who verbally commits extremely early, before coaches have even had a chance to make their initial contacts (which can first occur by letter at age 16). How seriously should such a verbal commit be taken?
“[Minnesota coach] Don Lucia was a strong proponent of saying, ‘I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him and he’s already committed in grade 11,’” Anzalone said. “But I think [Notre Dame coach] Dave Poulin spoke to that. You got to stick with it if a kid commits and is willing to do that.”
Anzalone was pleased that the coaches had unanimous agreement, even if it’s just a gentleman’s agreement.
“Overall, it’s a great step,” he said. “Our claim to fame is that we’re educators and student-athletes. Your penalty could be having to answer to the president of the [coaches] association, and embarassment at Naples — nothing you couldn’t live through, but you’d have to strongly come up with your reasons for why you did it.
“The negative side of this is programs getting these commitments and then sending a kid back to junior and pulling the rug out from him. But that’s a discussion for another year.”