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Paying twice for the same penalty makes Notre Dame’s Jackson see red

In a CCHA season that has been fascinating at the very least, it’s been an especially interesting month for Notre Dame.

On New Year’s Eve, the Fighting Irish beat visiting Boston University 5-2 and in their first Division I game of the new year a week later, the Irish traveled to Minneapolis and topped the Golden Gophers 4-3.

The following weekend, Notre Dame lost two in a home-and-home series with Western Michigan — and it was the first loss that made coach Jeff Jackson really, really unhappy.

“You had to be there to see the whole thing,” said Jackson. “The officiating was unbelievably bad. It was so bad that the CCHA changed officials the next night and they never do that.”

By now, people around the CCHA know that “the whole thing” that Jackson referred to is Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Western Michigan Jan. 13. That’s the game in which forward Jeff Costello was assessed a major penalty for contact to the head and ejected from the game. The problem with the penalty was that Costello was nowhere near the play and Riley Sheahan was the one responsible for knocking down the Broncos’ Dane Walters.

According to Jackson, that was just one issue in the game. At 11:26 in the third period, the Irish were assessed a bench minor for too many men, but Jackson said the penalty was the result of the Notre Dame bench’s response to a hit to Stephen Johns for which WMU’s Danny DeKeyser wasn’t penalized, right in front of the ND bench. The Broncos capitalized on that power play at 12:07 and tied the game. Fourteen seconds later, Kyle O’Kane scored the winner for Western Michigan — with DeKeyser assisting.

Let’s make several things clear here. First, in no way in discussion with Jackson did he ever have anything but good things to say about Western Michigan. Second — and keep the first point in mind, too — Jackson is not a whiner. Third, he didn’t even complain about the loss itself.

In other words, this is not about sour grapes.

That leads us to the third thing here: No one feels worse about the sequence of events in the actual game than referees Keith Sergott and Matthew Miller, and assistant referees Bruce Vida and Brian Troester. Sergott and Vida are two of the hardest-working, most conscientious officials in the game. This isn’t about vilifying them. They’d probably like to have that night back. As Jackson himself said, what’s done is done.

This is about due process and punishing a team twice for a single infraction — an infraction that was incorrectly called in the first place.

The game was televised and even in real time it’s clear that Sheahan hit Walters at 14:39 in the second, so it’s no stretch to say that this was a blown call. Costello was ejected and Nick Larson went to the box to serve the five-minute major.

I watched Sheahan’s hit to Walters repeatedly, and I can see absolutely no contact to the head. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder contact and it’s high, but Walters’ head is untouched. It should have earned Sheahan two minutes for interference.

So you have the wrong guy called for a penalty and the wrong penalty assessed on the play. What happened days later, though, is what made Jackson see red.

“We didn’t know until Monday night that they were going to review it,” said Jackson. “When Steve Piotrowski called, my first thought was that Western Michigan sent in the tape for review.”

But that’s not what happened. When the Broncos heard that the league was reviewing the play, WMU coach Andy Murray called Jackson to tell him that Western did not send in the tape for review. In fact, said Jackson, Murray told him the play didn’t merit review. What was done was done.

Except it wasn’t.

On Wednesday, Jan. 18, the CCHA issued a press release saying that Sheahan was going to be suspended for one game because he was guilty of “delivering an illegal hit to a Western Michigan player.”

Notre Dame immediately challenged the suspension.

“First of all, we thought it was a legal hit,” said Jackson. “It wasn’t a high hit, and it was called a five-minute major for contact to the head.”

Jackson conceded that it could have been interference but not a major penalty.

“It wasn’t high and it wasn’t from behind and it wasn’t along the wall,” said Jackson. “It was a hard hit. It was an open-ice hit. It wasn’t vicious, in my opinion, and it wasn’t retaliatory.”

ND’s appeal of the suspension allowed Sheahan to play last Friday night against Michigan, a game that the Irish won 3-1. They lost the following night, 2-1, with Sheahan serving the suspension after the Irish lost the appeal.

“I was mad,” said Jackson. “I was mad about how the whole thing was handled.”

Wrong player, wrong call. “And we didn’t even know until Wednesday, five days after the incident, that Sheahan was suspended,” said Jackson. “I thought it was handled poorly. He missed Saturday’s game and it had a big impact in the game. He’s one of our top penalty killers.”

Both of Michigan’s goals in Saturday’s game came in the first period on the power play.

And perhaps the worst part about the whole thing? “They didn’t get the right player,” said Jackson, “so we actually paid for the same penalty twice.”

That’s exactly what happened. A blown call led to a team being penalized twice for the same play. And unless the league had much more definitive evidence that Sheahan actually did make contact to Walters’ head, the CCHA blew this one twice, punishing Notre Dame for the league’s original mistake.

As for the second penalty about which Jackson had a complaint — that bench minor for too many men in the third period — I couldn’t see an extra Notre Dame skater in the mix and the Irish weren’t making a line change, but I didn’t see every inch of the ice when the whistle was blown. Jackson may have a valid complaint about the hit on Johns, but it’s difficult to tell whether DeKeyser left his feet before making contact with Johns or if he left his feet as a result of making contact with Johns — but he left his feet and there appeared to be contact to the head.

Dave Starman was calling the game for CBS Sports Network, and he made an excellent point in a column last week about the potential use of video replay to aid officials when something is unclear when a call is made, like who actually committed an infraction.

A review process for due process. That has potential.

Hey, they play hockey, too

Officially in 2012, the Fighting Irish are 2-3-0, with that win against Minnesota, sweep at the hands of Western Michigan and last weekend’s split with the Wolverines.

Jackson is happy. Well, at least he sounded OK. “We’re getting better,” said Jackson. “We only gave up three goals against a pretty good offensive team this weekend.”

Giving up three goals in two games to Michigan is a really good barometer. Heading into last weekend’s series, the Wolverines had the sixth-best offense nationally, averaging 3.54 goals per game. This week they’re No. 8 (3.39), which is more than respectable.

Heading into last weekend’s series, the Irish had the 27th-best defense in the country, allowing 2.75 goals per game. This week they’re No. 24 (2.65) — slightly more respectable. Better overall defense has been a focus for Notre Dame this season.

“Some of it’s been goaltending and it’s also about how we play in front of our goaltending, too,” said Jackson. “We’ve played pretty well since we’ve got back from Christmas break. Even in that Western series we played well.”

From the start of the season, the Fighting Irish have been looking for a starting goaltender to emerge, and they may have found what they’ve been seeking in Steven Summerhays. With the exception of ND’s exhibition game against the Russian Red Stars Jan. 3 and the Jan. 14 loss to Western Michigan, Summerhays has started every game since the Irish beat Ferris State Dec. 10 to stop a four-game losing streak. He’s 4-2-0 in that span, with a 2.00 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

“He’s getting some confidence and playing a lot better,” said Jackson. “He’s only a sophomore.”

Jackson said that the rotation between Summerhays and senior Mike Johnson has been friendly. “There’s nothing wrong with a little competition,” he said. “Mike Johnson’s played some big games for us.”

The Irish finished the 2010-11 season 10th in the country in offense, averaging 3.43 goals per game. This season, though, Notre Dame is struggling a bit, coming in at No. 25 (2.92). Consider, though, that only two teams in the CCHA — Michigan (eighth) and Michigan State (18th) — are among the top 20 teams in the country offensively. Only three league players have 10 or more goals in conference games — Ohio State’s Chris Crane (12), Michigan’s Alex Guptill (11) and Miami’s Reilly Smith (11).

“The depth of our league is part of it,” said Jackson. “It’s hard to score. There’s a lot of good goaltenders and a lot of teams play really good team defense.”

This weekend, Notre Dame travels to Fairbanks to face Alaska. The Nanooks’ defense? Tenth in the nation.

Players of the week

Miami nearly sweeps.

Rookie of the week: Miami’s Austin Czarnik, who had four assists in the RedHawks’ sweep of Western Michigan.

Offensive player of the week: Miami’s Reilly Smith, who scored all three goals in the RedHawks’ 3-1 win over the Broncos Friday and had the game winner in Saturday’s 4-0 contest.

Defenseman of the week: Ferris State’s Simon Denis, who had four assists — two in each game — as the Bulldogs defeated and tied Ohio State.

Goaltender of the week: Miami’s Connor Knapp, who swept the Broncos with a 0.50 goals-against average and .980 save percentage for the series. Saturday’s shutout was his second of the season and 10th of his career.

My ballot

1. Minnesota-Duluth
2. Minnesota
3. Boston University
4. Boston College
5. Michigan
6. Notre Dame
7. Merrimack
8. Massachusetts-Lowell
9. Cornell
10. Ferris State
11. Colorado College
12. Ohio State
13. Western Michigan
14. Miami
15. Denver
16. Michigan State
17. Northern Michigan
18. Maine
19. North Dakota
20. Union

USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.

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  • Bob

    My take on the Sheahan hit was that it was on a player who did not see him coming (e.g., blindside) and he targeted the head/neck area which is clear. It’s possible the head was not contacted, but it appears the intent was to do so and Sheahan definitely contacted the neck area. In the end, I think the league made the right call with the suspension.

    I’d also challenge the notion that Jackson “is not a whiner.” There have been several instances over the past two or three years where a Notre Dame player has been injured as the result of a heavy hit and the whining comes rolling. But, when it’s reversed, it’s, “It wasn’t high (it WAS high and it TARGETED the head/neck area) and it wasn’t from behind and it wasn’t along the wall,” said Jackson. “It was a hard hit. It was an open-ice hit.”

    So, Jackson seems to want it both ways…don’t hit my guys, but it’s ok if we go after yours. I think it’s very hypocritical and I think he’s wrong and I think there’s a pattern here that merits consideration.

    • Bob

      One additional note…Walters was INJURED on the play. Injured badly enough that he’s missed the last 3+ games. I think that Walters missed the remainder of the Friday game and all of the Saturday game vs. Notre Dame was taken into consideration by the league. And, though they didn’t know it at the time, Walters also missed the Miami series. To me, the one game suspension seems even more fair….if not light.

      • Paula Weston

        Players may also be injured when they’re hit cleanly and when the hit is a minor infraction.  I watched that play again and again and again — and I didn’t see any intent to harm nor did I see anything that would constitute a major infraction.  Additionally, it was shoulder-to-shoulder — and such a hit (even an accidental collision, which this wasn’t), may cause injury to the neck without actual contact to the neck or head.

        It seems to me that the CCHA wanted it both ways.  The league wanted to be allowed to get away with the wrong call to the wrong player, following it up with making Notre Dame pay twice for the same infraction.  It’s true that sometimes players are suspended following infractions that they actually serve — called correctly — in a game, but after viewing this repeatedly, I don’t see that Sheahan’s hit warranted any additional action by the league.  

        • Bob

          I’ve seen the play, too.

          We agree to disagree because it wasn’t a clean hit. It was a high hit with the neck area targeted, the player was defenseless, didn’t have the puck and it resulted in injury. With Walters missing 3+ games, I’d say Sheahan got off easy.

          You said above it wasn’t a high hit…it was to the upper body…maybe there wasn’t contact with the head, but shoulder as you say (neck area as I saw it) certainly isn’t a “low” hit.

          • Serious?

            I could care less about Notre Dame but I have never read such an ignorant comment. His intent was to hit to the head even though he didn’t hit to the head??? Obviously you don’t see the idiocy of that comment. It’s contact to the head, or it isn’t. There is no grey area.

  • dustybronco

    Hit was dirty, player does not have the puck and you hit him high, do you have a link Paula so everyone can see it and judge for themselves? As far as jackson saying the too many men was the result of a hit DD put on an irish…is jackson saying his benches cleared, because it sure sounds like it lol

    • Paula Weston

      I don’t have a link.  I recorded the game and watched it repeatedly before writing.  

      It wasn’t a high hit.  It was shoulder-to-shoulder.  And the benches didn’t clear. I didn’t see any additional Notre Dame players on the ice when that call was made — but, as I said, I didn’t have a view of the entire ice surface.  I will say that the Irish were not changing shifts when the call was made, nor did the puck hit anyone on the Notre Dame bench/boards and continue in play.

      • DM

        Hi Paula – I covered that game, just to clarify, the penalty was a bench minor that the scorer assumed was too many men. Jackson explained that the ref was calling a bench minor because the Irish players were getting a little too chirpy after what they perceived to be the missed boarding call. He assessed the call to the bench because he couldn’t see which player was making comments (He had trouble telling the Irish apart that night).

        Also, to clarify an earlier post, Walters did not return to the game after he was hit by Sheahan. The other hits an earlier poster was referring to occured before Sheahan’s hit. Walter’s left the game clutching his shoulder and did not return.

  • streaker

    I believe Dave Starman also concluded (on saturday night’s ND-Michigan broadcast) that the suspension was (and I paraphrase) due to “a blind and dangerous hit to an unsuspecting, defenseless player.”  He either believes that to be true or is just following the CCHA company line. 

    I have no dog in this fight, so I’ll leave my opinion on the matter out of it. I will say this though: Notre Dame plays on the edge, as several teams in the league do. If they cross the line (biased to Shawn Hunwick getting trampled every weekend) which I think they have an unchecked habit of doing, they should be penalized. The biggest culprit in this is the CCHA and their officials. If they do not start being more assertive and take command of game situations, more confusion and incidences like this will happen. Worse yet, teams like NMU, Miami, WMU, ND, Michigan… that take a rather overaggressive physical approach as emotions heat up- will find that their style will be heavily penalized by other league officials come NCAA playoff time. 

    I have no doubt that officials are some of the hardest working, nicest people around. That isn’t the question here, though. They need to make quick, decisive and accurate evaluations and prevent escalation. That has been us (the fans) biggest criticism of officiating in this league. I’ve seen in in person time and time again this season and it is completely out of control. I don’t blame Jeff Jackson one bit- and I think his colleagues would back him.

  • JJFP

    If anyone wants to send me money to copy the game, I’ll do so to prove that the hit was shoulder-to-shoulder and not blindsided.  If was interference.  Nothing more.  Funny how as soon as the whistle blew, Walters popped right up off the ice.

    • nmu dad


    • Bob

      This is convenient reasoning from ND fans who cry when the shoe’s on the other foot.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RFDW7VV5KDP5E32DG66NUKB76M Brian C

        This is just pain hating. Pure and simple.

  • Cwood91262

    Like Paula, I’ve watched this play numerous times and wish to add some additional comments.  First, the comment by Mr. Starman made during the TV broadcast of the ND-UM game was a press statement written by the CCHA officials concerning the suspension and the subsequent appeal and upholding of the suspension.   It was a CCHA statement and nothing more.

    Secondly, the WMU player that was hit by Mr. Sheahan got back up and played subsequent shifts, until again being checked by another Notre Dame player, thoroughly known, unlike Mr. Sheahan, for the size of hits he delivers.  While it could be argued that the combination of those hits have resulted in his 3+ missed games, one cannot say conclusively that his absence is the result of either solely of either of the hits.

    Next, it should be noted that at least one of the referees replaced for the following nights game had been removed from at least one other game several years earlier for questionable calls in that game.  One could possibly argue bias on the part of the referee, since that game was also a Notre Dame game, but in my opinion, it is due to deficiencies in his skill level, deficiencies noted in most all CCHA referees.  The compounding issue in the game that resulted in the removal of the referees was largely based on the sheer fictional call of too many men on the ice, made by the other referee in this game.  The referee in question has indicated that he made the call in response to what he felt were comments by the players directed at him.  Good referees should be able to immunize themselves to any and all minor comments.  Outlandish comments can and do occur and are dealt with the issuing of a 10 minute misconduct penalty against the offending player.  By issuing what is tantamount to a fictional call, this referee singlehandedly rewrote the NCAA Ice hockey rule book, giving WMU a power play that resulted in the eventual game winning goal by WMU. 

    Supplemental discipline is something that is within the purview of the league, based on the offense.  It’s written into the rules for game disqualifications, for instance.  But the credibility of the CCHA hierarchy comes thoroughly into play with the suspension of Mr. Sheahan.  I suspect that they made the call because they too agreed that the wrong player had been penalized and that Mr. Sheahan did deserve some punishment.  But their attempt to correct this mistake is akin to closing the barn door after the horse has got loose.  They need to suck it up and walk away, especially in light of the subsequent actions of the WMU team to indicate they in no way acted to bring this matter up for further review.  Their actions only underscore the comments overheard from one CCHA game attendee–CCHA, Can’t Comprehend Hockey at All. 

    Nicely written article, Paula.

    • streaker


      Just for clarity-If you re-read my first point you can interpret that Starman was simply reading something the league published (i.e. company line.) I don’t think he disagreed with it based on his follow-up comments, but walked a very careful line about it. Only he can verbalize where he actually stands on the incident.

  • nmu dad

    How do you separate whining and non-whining?  I’m getting confused about what constitutes non-whining.

    CCHA has 9 teams in the top 20 PWR today!!!!!

  • Hockey25

    Sounds like a bunch of whiners! GET OVER IT – YOU LOST!

  • Derrick

    ND lost one game at home and one game in Kalamazoo that weekend!

    • Paula Weston

      Yes, they did.  My mistake.

  • KAW

    You never miss an opportunity to detract from WMU’s success, do you? I’m sure they beat Notre Dame because they must have bribed the refs. Give me a break. I agree with your analysis that Notre Dame was punished unfairly, but just cause the refs blew the call doesn’t mean it wasn’t an aggressive, borderline dirty hit. Also, remember that WMU got swept my Miami, and Walters was out for the weekend. You can’t say Notre Dame’s suspension impacted their series then pretend that WMU’s injuries didn’t impact theirs.

    As a long-time michigan football fan, I’m happy to see the Irish be the unlucky ones for once

  • Broncobri79

    It’s funny, this is the second time I remember this season that a piece has been written which some sort of lame excuse is given for Notre Dame’s lack of success in a weekend. Earlier this year It was something to do with illness making its way through their locker room. You don’t think every team in the league goes through these same issues in a given season? The difference is you don’t hear about them, because most teams don’t look for excuses every time a weekend doesn’t turn out the way they want it to. Did you hear Andy Murray go out and give some kind of sob story interview over WMU getting swept in Miami when 2 of their top 3 scorers were out for the weekend? Did you hear him makes all sorts of excuses when some of the worst officiating I’ve seen completely changed the complexion of the game in the 3rd period of both nights against Minnesota-Duluth? The CCHA has bad officiating. I think we all know that. It’s been the case for years. Every team in the league has to deal with it. Norte Dame certainly isn’t a special case here. The fact is it was a questionable hit and Dane Walters sustained head and shoulder injuries that kept him out for 3+ games. He probably deserved everything he got for it.

  • wol4ine

    The title of the article is about ND “paying twice for the same penalty”.  Not about the refs making a bad call.  Are you telling us that ND was the victim of a bad call??  Bad calls are hardly news worthy.  Unless this is the first time ND has been on the recieiving end.  The refs called a major penalty and put the wrong guy (Costello) in the box.  Jackson himself stated Sheahan was ‘one of our top penalty killers’.  So ND actually got a break by putting the wrong guy in the box.  They did not get a break when the CCHA reviewed the tape and found it was Sheahan that made the ‘illegal hit” and suspended HIM for one game.  It appears the refs were lenient in only giving a 5 min major and game misconduct.  It was the CCHA that followed up, after reviewing the tape, with the DQ.  But this would be the same for any team.  I don’t see the “paying twice” part.  Are you implying the too many men penalty was added because of the hit?  Or was it something else, perhaps too many men on the ice?

    • streaker

      Hmm, I had to re-read the article to get what you are saying. Notre Dame’s beef is that the CCHA re-issued a stronger after the fact verdict, essentially penalizing them twice for a major/game misconduct (Costello) against WMU and then suspending Sheahan against Michigan after re-reviewing the incident. This upset Jackson especially since they lost both games due to penalties that they did not agree with. Bottom line is, the CCHA botched the process-both on and off the ice- but made a judgement call against the Irish on the hit that the ND family disagrees with. They have to live with that verdict as any other team in the league would as well as the later too many men call. 

      I still say that Jackson would have the support of his colleagues in questioning the CCHA’s protocol- but not necessarily the penalty rulings and suspension ruling. 

  • 28 Car

    What is puzzling to me is that video replay CAN be used to properly identify a player committing and infraction.  Rule 6 section 60 -a-(1-g) states that the use of video replay is permissible “to correctly identify individuals who participated in a fight or committed an infraction.”  Page HR-93.  Perhaps Mr. Starman should do a little bit of homework and actually know the rules before he goes in front of the microphone…..

  • LilaJoshs.Dad

    The original call sounds like a call I saw at the NMU-UM game earlier this year.  NMU player made a great open ice hit on the UM skater who had the puck.  Hit him in the shoulder with his shoulder.  The ref behind the play called a 5 minute major for contact to the head, when there was none. 

    Sounds like the CCHA refs are having trouble calling legit penalties, and I far as I’m concerned it’s been an issue for awhile. 

    And the fact that the refs couldn’t even make the call on the right player is horrendous. 

  • IHF

    the only “unbiased” comments here seem to come from Paula.  I suppose now we’ll see endless opining that she is obviously a Notre Dame fan, to go along with the endless opining (some coming from me) that all she cares about is MSU and UM, or the B1G10 teams, or when she lived in Columbus, OSU. 

    Virtually all the other commenting on the accuracy or fairness of the call is divided, based on the allegiance of the poster/commenter.   I’d caution the ND fans to stay away from it because if we complain about the call sour grapes is the accusation.  I don’t give a flying **** what the others have to say.  It’s a no win scenario, though.  I, for one, have grown tired of the lack of objectivity among the vast majority of fans who post comments on these stories or on the forum.  It is epidemic. 

    It’s one thing I generally like about our (ND) threads.  Sure, there is always some general commenting on the quality of the officiating.  But rarely do you see any posts that games were WON or LOST because of the referees.  Then take a look at any number of other team threads.  Prove to me that we’re not less likely to do it or the others aren’t more likely.  Prove me wrong about that. 

    I guess I should be happy that Notre Dame hockey brings this out in anyone.  Because until about 6 years ago we didn’t matter.  A referee could have thrown a puck into the ND net and had I complained about it here in 2001, no one would have noticed.  I guess I’d rather matter.         

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