This Week in the WCHA: Feb. 25, 2010

I hate February. February is, in many ways, the Monday of months.

The one good thing about February is that it’s a short month and thankfully, it has flown by this year. I took a look at the schedule and realized we only have two weekends left in the regular season and there’s only a month until I’ll be driving out to St. Paul for the Final Five.

However, we’ve still got a little bit of the regular season left, so, let’s move onward, shall we?

Red Baron WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Brett Hextall, UND.
Why: Scored four points and had his first career three-point game to help his Sioux sweep Minnesota-Duluth.
Also Nominated: Anthony Maiani, DU; Malcolm Gwilliam, MTU; Kael Mouillierat, MSU; Derek Stepan, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Brad Eidsness, UND.
Why: Stopped 53 of 56 shots on goal to help his Sioux sweep Minnesota-Duluth.
Also Nominated: Cody Brookwell, DU; Nick Leddy, UM; Ben Youds, MSU; Dan Dunn, SCSU.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Nick Leddy, UM.
Why: Had a solid weekend at both ends of the ice in his Gophers’ sweep of Colorado College, including scoring three points on Saturday night.
Also Nominated: Matt Donovan, DU; Steven Seigo, MTU; Eriah Hayes, MSU; Danny Kristo, UND.

Consistently Inconsistent

So, do you remember an initially seemingly harmless incident way back in November that resulted in injury? The specific incident I’m thinking about here was the hit that put this week’s Rookie of the Week, Leddy, out for a few months with a broken jaw.

That incident, along with a few other injuries due to hits to the head, caused the NCAA to put a new emphasis on contact to the head penalties. Here’s what I wrote about it way back on Nov. 26:

Thanks in part to some recent injuries due to hits to the head, the NCAA is re-emphasizing its position on contact to the head penalties. League commissioner Bruce McLeod had a teleconference call with the coaches today to make sure they understand the new emphasis.

Though there already is a zero-tolerance policy on contact to the head, oftentimes hits don’t get called — for example, the Seawolf elbow that broke Gopher Nick Leddy’s jaw. According to the new emphasis, any contact to the head in any situation, incidental or not, accidental or not, will warrant at least a two-minute penalty; actual severity will be up to the referee’s discretion.

If you remember back to the Leddy incident, he was taken out with an open-ice hit that all parties initially thought was a clean hit. Leddy’s jaw was broken; no penalty was made on the play. Later on, Gophers’ coach Don Lucia said it wasn’t the cleanest hit ever, but I digress.

Anyway, I bring this up now because of two separate incidents that happened this past weekend. One was in Grand Forks and the other in Madison.

The first involves the Sioux’s Corban Knight on Duluth’s Mike Connolly. While it’s not entirely clear from the video, Knight apparently elbowed Connolly in the head while along the boards. Connolly suffered a concussion and has a black eye from where his face hit the glass.

The second involves St. Cloud’s Aaron Marvin (now with a reputation, thanks to the Chay Genoway incident) on Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion in open ice. As you can see in the video, Marvin’s shoulder comes up and hits Geoffrion in the face mask, taking him out. Geoffrion, like Connolly, is currently out due to a concussion.

The worst part, especially when you hark back to what I wrote back in November? Neither play warranted a penalty, even though both involved contact to the head.

I can maybe understand the Knight/Connolly situation, as at first glance it just looks to be a check along the boards (even though Connolly does clearly get hit in the head). Still, in the case of Marvin/Geoffrion, something should have been called. And something almost was, according to the Wisconsin State Journal:

St. Cloud center Aaron Marvin caught Geoffrion in the side of the head with his right shoulder during an open-ice hit. No penalty was called even though it looked like a textbook case of contact to the head.

“The emphasis is on hits to the head and that’s where he was hit,” UW coach Mike Eaves said, adding he told Huskies coach Bob Motzko that he would ask the WCHA office to review the hit.”

There’s also a rumor floating around that referees Brad Shepherd and Todd Anderson didn’t call the penalty because Marvin made contact with the face mask, and not the head. I hope this isn’t true because since when is one’s face not part of one’s head?

The question about what happened also came up in Eaves’ weekly press conference and this is what he had to say:

“Well, the league has a protocol, and they’re going through that protocol right now, even as we speak, to review it, to look at it, and then to make a decision whether or not they need to take action. It has been a point of emphasis. And, quite frankly, in the old days, there wouldn’t have been a penalty. Blake just got caught with his head down and got hit. But with the rules the way they are and the emphasis the way, I mean, we were told before the game that hitting the goaltender, hits to the head were going to be a point of emphasis, and Blake got hit to the head and nothing was called. I know the league is looking at it right now, and I’m sure before Wednesday we’ll find out if they’re going to do anything about it or not.”

Obviously, as it’s late Thursday, nothing has been done.

Eaves brings up a good point, and I’ve heard this in a few other places as well, that Marvin’s hit in years past wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. The problem NOW is that the WCHA and the NCAA have put an emphasis on hits to the head and we had two clear examples this weekend of hits to the head that weren’t called. So, therefore, what Eaves and everyone else is looking for is a little bit of consistency in the way things are called.

Personally, I’m more apt to agree with the emphasis as it’s supposed to be if only because of the head injuries that are resulting from these hits. Concussions are bad things, dangerous things that can screw up these players’ careers and heck, their lives, before they even really get started.

Regardless of which way the league wants to go with an emphasis or not on calling penalties on hits to the head, there needs to be a consistency that we just haven’t seen. I could be cynical and say we never see consistency in officiating in the WCHA, college hockey or the sport in general, but part of me knows that is due to human error.

Still, the lack of penalties called this weekend on hits to the head when there’s this supposed emphasis? Ridiculous. Call it or don’t; just be consistent.

Playoffs: What We Know

Michigan Tech has clinched last.

Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State will be on the road.

Minnesota can, in theory, still get home ice, but it needs a lot of help.

Denver can clinch the MacNaughton Cup with a sweep of MSU this weekend.

Around the WCHA

UW: Two weeks ago, I mentioned Matt Thurber’s indefinite suspension from the UW team. Now, it’s official that he has been dismissed from the team completely. It has come out that the suspension and subsequent dismissal had to do with an alleged domestic incident regarding a woman.

Matchups by the Numbers

With the Olympics and all 10 teams playing this weekend, you have the possibility of getting into hockey overload.

Wisconsin @ Michigan Tech
Overall Records: UW — 19-8-4 (14-7-3 WCHA). MTU — 5-24-1 (4-20-0 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 93-48-9.

North Dakota @ Colorado College
Overall Records: UND — 16-11-5 (11-10-3 WCHA). CC — 17-12-5 (11-10-3 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 131-75-10 or 132-75-10, depending on whom you ask.
Notes: The two teams are currently tied for fifth in the league standings.

Minnesota @ Minnesota-Duluth
Overall Records: UM — 15-15-2 (10-12-2 WCHA). UMD — 18-13-1 (14-9-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 127-70-13.

Denver @ Minnesota State
Overall Records: DU — 22-6-4 (16-4-4 WCHA). MSU — 14-16-2 (8-15-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 17-13-5 or 16-13-5, depending on whom you ask.

Alaska-Anchorage @ Alaska Home and Home
Overall Records: UAA — 10-18-2 (8-16-2 WCHA). UA — 14-9-9 (11-9-8-4 CCHA).
Head-to-Head: UAA leads the overall series, 80-48-11.
Notes: UAA hasn’t lost to Alaska since 2005. … Alaska hasn’t been swept yet this season.

Future WCHA Team Watch

Bemidji State swept Niagara last weekend while Nebraska-Omaha split with Miami. This weekend, the two future league teams face off against each other in Omaha.

No. 9 BSU: 21-7-2 overall, 3-3-0 vs. WCHA
UNO: 17-13-6 overall, 1-1-1 vs. WCHA

Stick a Fork In This

It’s done.

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