Finding additional options for settling regular season ties, expansion of video replay and eliminating the majority of the neutral zone faceoff locations are among the topics that will be on the table this week for the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee.
The group will meet with men’s and women’s coaches at the Division I and Division III levels as part of the American Hockey Coaches Association annual meetings in Naples, Fla.
The meetings will help the rules committee make recommendations to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel this June as it looks to make changes to the rule book that is used across college hockey. Rules changes are made every two years, and this offseason is what’s considered a “rule change year.”
Another major item on the docket will be the use of three-quarter visors as opposed to the current full face shields, similar to what is used in the United States Hockey League.
The visors were discussed as an option to the players two years ago, the last cycle of rules changes. At that time, the rules committee decided to table the issue to obtain more data related to injures suffered by players using the three-quarters visor.
“What we did was determine we did not have enough good, solid information at the time two years ago,” said Ty Halpin, associate director of playing rules administration for the NCAA and the NCAA’s liaison to the ice hockey rules committee. “We worked hard to get the USHL’s data to correlate to ours. We’ll see if there are any trends that will help the rationale and the discussion.
“We know the men’s coaches feel like there is almost unanimous support for [three-quarters visors].”
The issue at hand is the potential for increase for certain injuries, particularly dental injuries. But the feeling among coaches and administrators on the hockey side is that a reduced-sized face shield will make the players more responsible with their sticks as well in dangerous hits to the head, thus possibly reducing the number of concussions in the game.
Proponents have to develop a strong enough argument to convince the decision-makers at the NCAA, the overwhelming majority of whom are not intimately familiar with ice hockey and the game’s injuries. That poses a challenge that could slow down the process of implementing the rule but, despite the slow track, shouldn’t be perceived as threatening to kill the potential for the reduced shield.
“Two years ago, we laid out the process we’re going to follow over the next two seasons and then have this [rules] meeting in June [of 2014],” Halpin said. “Hopefully we will have something where we can come to a decision [on the future of this rule]. The decision may be we need another year of data.
“This is not the end of the road for this discussion.”
Among other rules that will be discussed with the coaches in Naples:
Overtime and shootouts
In the desire to create a winner and loser in each contest, the committee will explore various options on overtimes.
Those options include the use of a four-on-four situation similar to the NHL, expanding the length of the overtime and mandating shootouts — used currently in the Big Ten and NCHC on the Division I men’s side — to all leagues.
Expansion of video review
As arenas around college hockey continue to improve their video equipment and review capabilities, there will be discussion on expanding the use of video review.
In addition to potential use to review offsides and hand pass calls on plays that result in goals, there will be a proposal to allow officials to review major penalties before adding a game misconduct or game disqualification penalty. It’s similar to NCAA basketball, where officials use replay when assessing flagrant fouls.
“The idea is similar to basketball in that if you have any video that is available to you that can definitively show that something was incorrect and you can fix it, we should use whatever means that are available,” said Steve Piotrowski, supervisor of officials for the Big Ten and the NCAA rules secretary.
There also will be discussion on whether video review can be used to award a penalty shot (on a hand pass in the crease, for instance) or an automatic goal on reviewable plays.
Moving all neutral zone faceoffs to center ice
Neutral zone faceoffs that occur right outside the blue line might not give much room to create momentum off the draw, so there will be a proposal to move all neutral zone faceoffs to the center circle.
“The talk is to move all neutral zone faceoffs to center ice to allow more offense to be created off of it,” Halpin said. “It also keeps the wingers back to their proper spot.”
Automatic suspensions for end-of-game majors
The committee will discuss assessing an automatic one-game suspension to players who are assessed major penalties with less than five minutes remaining in a game.
According to Halpin, several conference commissioners proposed this concept to reduce or eliminate players intentionally taking late-game major penalties with the understanding that they may not have to serve the entire penalty.
In the proposed rule, if a penalty occurs in the final five minutes and the game does not go to overtime, the offending player would automatically be suspended for the next game. If the game goes to overtime and the penalty can be served in its entirety, there would be no suspension.
“This is something that really picked up steam [in discussions at the Frozen Four] in Philadelphia,” said Halpin. “The conference supervisors [of officials] and some of the commissioners feel like we need a little bit more teeth to not force them to go through the [supplemental discipline] process.”
Penalties for teams intentionally delaying the game on whistles where personnel cannot be changed
In an effort to reduce stalling tactics, the committee will look to clarify wording related to delaying the game on icings, hand passes, defensive team knocking the net off and shooting the puck from the defensive zone directly out of play, all plays after which the offending team cannot change its players.
The clarification would assess a minor penalty for delay of game to any team that either delays lining up for the ensuing faceoff or tries to “sneak” players on and off the ice as the whistle blows.
Further clarification of hand passes
Following the rule change in the previous cycle that prohibited hand passes in the defensive zone, the committee wants to further clarify what constitutes a hand pass to include wording that requires the referee to determine intent when calling a violation.
“We feel like there are still too many whistles when there are [unintentional] deflections off a glove,” said Piotrowski. “We want to focus on looking at the rule again and make sure it’s where we want it to be. We want to reduce whistles. That’s really our point there.”
Prohibiting players from leaving feet to block shots
Some believe that shot blocking is a skill but others feel that defensive players leaving their feet to block a shot is lowering offense in the game at a time where goals are already at a premium.
The committee will look at whether there are ways to police this to eliminate players diving to block shots.
“I wouldn’t say there is a huge amount of support for a penalty there, but we’re at least going to talk about it,” said Halpin.
Increasing space between players on faceoffs
Hoping to reduce the amount of congestion on faceoffs, the committee will discuss increasing the room between the on-ice markings that separate the two centers as well as the wingers at the faceoff circles.
“The objective would be to move those marks a little further apart so the pre-whistle contact isn’t [as prevalent] as it is now,” said Piotrowski.
Standardizing depth on nets
With the NHL moving to a shallower net this season that allows players to use more skills on wraparound and behind-the-net plays, NCAA hockey has, to date, allowed games played at NHL venues to use that level’s nets.
Games at Boston’s TD Garden used the NHL-style nets. NCAA tournament games, including the Frozen Four played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, did not.
There will be discussion on standardizing the nets across all NCAA buildings.
“There is a lot of discussions of the positivity [the shallow nets] create,” said Piotrowski. “It allows an attacking player to come around either on a wraparound or to make an offensive play in the goal mouth.”
But Piotrowski cautioned that the cost involved for each team to purchase new goals would prevent this from happening overnight.
“You have to give teams time to ramp up from a budgetary perspective,” he said.
After six to seven hours of meetings at the AHCA convention, the rules committee will take the feedback it receives and formulate recommendations for rules changes.
On June 2-4, the committee will meet with the respective men’s and women’s ice hockey committees for Divisions I and III as well as the NCAA Championship Committee in Indianapolis to present the recommendations.
Mike Murphy, vice president of hockey operations for the National Hockey League, is expected to be part of the committee meetings in Indianapolis.
Those rules that are adopted will then be put out for comment to all coaches before the 2014-16 rule book is finalized in early July.