While the NCAA’s efforts to open up the game through its emphasis on obstruction penalties is widely supported, and should make college hockey a better game in the long run, the short term could be really painful.
Last week, ECAC commissioner Phil Buttafuoco hosted a conference call in an effort to enlist the media’s help in explaining the reasons behind the crackdown on obstruction. Let’s hope that his optimism that the game will open up is well placed.
How the ECAC treats the points of emphasis within its crew of on-ice officials will have a major impact on D-III hockey; the conference assigns referees for all of the men’s and women’s D-III ECAC leagues, plus the NESCAC and SUNYAC.
Buttafuoco, who was joined by league directors Paul Duffy and George Starr on the call, said that the point not to see more penalties: “We’re not asking the officials to make more calls; we’re basically asking the coaches and players to adapt.”
But so far, more penalties have been called, while incredulous players and coaches try to break habits of a lifetime in hockey and adjust.
Through Saturday, 21 regulation or exhibition games had been played involving every team in the SUNYAC, and all but Hobart in the ECAC West. Last season, those teams averaged about eight-and-a-half infractions per game. So far, the average per team per game is over 15.
Some people are of the opinion that the officials will ease up as the season moves on, and maybe there will be a meeting point in the middle, but I’m not so sure. The ECAC says it’s committed to enforcing the points of emphasis, and went so far in its conference call to say that officials who don’t toe the line won’t get game assignments. My guess is that players and coaches will adjust, and officials might get to the point where the incidental contact, the little tap with the stick, will be ignored. If so, the game will be better, and we’ll all see a more enjoyable product on the ice.
One thing to be said for the strict hooking, holding, and interference calls, though: referees can’t be accused of being inconsistent if they call the game with zero tolerance.
One thing I do have zero tolerance for is conduct by one spectator — I refuse to call him a “fan” — at a game over the weekend. I don’t care how frustrated you might be at the officiating; you don’t threaten the referee. I’d like to see people like that in the pokey and banned for life from ever attending a hockey game again.
And a word to the wise: it’s probably not going to do any good to say to the radio announcer, “You tell [the athletic director] that I’m not paying for season tickets to watch that! It’s not hockey.” Speaking as a long-time broadcaster, I guarantee you that we have no pull.
Fans aren’t the only ones a bit irritated by the avalanche of obstruction calls. USCHO’s Russell Jaslow was at the SUNYAC Challenge tournament at Cortland, and spoke to the coaches there. Even though his team had just won the game over Buffalo State, Fredonia’s Jeff Meredith seemed to Russell to be as frustrated as if his team had just lost. Even though the Blue Devils scored five goals on the powerplay, Meredith wasn’t happy: “You don’t want to see that much power play, penalty kill time. We just didn’t see much five-on-five. That puts student-athletes on the bench. They’re not involved.”
His opinion was shared by Buffalo State’s Jim Fowler. “Our guys are just skating down the ice and next thing they know the hand goes up,” Fowler said. “A lot of kids are not seeing ice time anymore because they’re not on special teams.”
The SUNYAC hasn’t lost a game yet to the ECAC West. Geneseo is 3-0-1, and Oswego and Brockport are 2-0 against the rival conference. For the last several years, things had tipped the other way.
Curry’s getting a raw deal over the game it scheduled with Norwich on Nov. 13. Our national columnist Chris Lerch found out from Curry coach Rob Davies that the game will have to be an exhibition because ECAC East rules do not allow a game prior to Nov. 19. Curry gets robbed of a game that would help its strength of schedule, while Norwich gets a tune-up against a national contender without having to risk anything.
I’ll bet there’s another date on the Curry calendar with a big red circle, and that’s January 29, 2005, when RIT comes to visit. The only time the Colonels laid an egg on the ice last season was when they lost a lopsided 9-1 game to the Tigers. Curry took way too many penalties against an RIT team that played its best game of the year.
RIT might have the next day circled; the Tigers take on Wentworth at Matthews Arena. RIT has never beaten the Leopards, losing the first game at RIT with half of the squad benched, and tying Wentworth two years ago on the Leopards’ home ice.
Two of only six east-west meetings happen this weekend as St. Norbert hosts RIT. (The other four happen when Gustavus Adolphus heads to Babson’s tournament at Thanksgiving, and Lake Forest participates in Norwich’s New Year’s Times-Argus tournament.)
Last year, St. Norbert won one game 4-2 and tied the other 4-4, in the first two games for five freshman defensemen. This year, RIT will be fortunate to come away with even that result. The Green Knights are No. 1 in the USCHO.com preseason poll for good reason.
One unknown: officiating. If the games in the west are officiated like they have been in the east, special teams may make both games a toss-up.
It should be some great hockey, though, and I feel privileged to get to see it. (And to see the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, as long as we’re in Green Bay.)
Finally, seeing as how we mentioned the Times-Argus … I’ve wondered for years what the heck an “argus” was, and never got around to looking it up. In Greek mythology, Argus was a giant with 100 eyes who was placed by the god Juno to guard Io.
Given the way today’s newspapers are staffed, I wonder if the Times-Argus even has 100 eyes on its payroll.
That’s it for this week. I’ll see you at the game.