Commentary: When CCHA Jobs Open, Keep Newton in Mind

So now the fun starts.

Playoffs are beginning, regular seasons are ending and where the big upset lies is anyone’s guess.

You control what you can control and try not to worry about what you can’t. Two things come to mind in that aspect: coaching changes and officiating.

To the first topic and that is the first official vacancy of the season — Western Michigan’s Jim Culhane will be replaced at the end of the Broncos’ playoff run, which many feel could come as early as Saturday night in Fairbanks. The second rumor is that Ohio State will open. Then there is Bowling Green, which may or may not replace season-long Dennis Williams.

One name that hasn’t come up — and there will be much more on this topic next week when his team opens CCHA playoff play — is Tom Newton. Newton is a rarity, a holdover from one regime (the Michigan State era under Ron Mason) to the new regime under current coach Rick Comely. He’s been a key asset to both coaches.

Newton is a tireless recruiter, a class act, and a very smart coach. One thing he isn’t is a shameless self promoter and that’s where he might get overlooked. His desire to be a head coach might be the best kept secret outside of East Lansing. Well, “let the word spread forth from this time and place,” Newton wants to be a head coach. He deserves his chance.

Looking around the NHL, players like David Booth and Justin Abdelkader were the recipients of his wisdom and both are off to great starts to their NHL careers. Toss in Drew Miller to that list as well. Two of them already have a Stanley Cup ring.

Newton bleeds the green and white and is someone who understands tradition. Unlike Rich Rodriguez, who came to Ann Arbor and blew up everything sacred to Michigan football, Newton has done his best to keep the Spartans family as a united front and his summer pro camp that reunites tons of former Spartans players for a week or two of intensive training prior to NHL camps open is just one example.

Newton was at Western when it had success, and he is a no-nonsense guy. He also has ties to Bowling Green. Most importantly, he is a CCHA guy. He knows the teams, the programs, the routines, the recruiting circles, the way the opponents play due to hours of film study, and he can coach.

There will be fancier names floated, some NHL assistants with ties might toss their name in to bide their time until a better NHL situation comes up. There are other CCHA assistants who probably are deserving of head coaching positions. This league has a ton of great assistants.

As for Newton, he loves college hockey, has a national title ring as an assistant at MSU and a track record for player development and winning.

This guy should be at the top of any list if and when jobs open in the CCHA. That is true especially at Western and BG. He has waited his turn; it is now his time to find his place as a bench boss in the CCHA.

Officiating

Not here to bang on the officials. My admiration for the CCHA officials and their boss Steve Piotrowski is well documented. No one cares more than these guys.

I have a close friend who is a police officer in New York City. He thinks many rules that govern driving in NYC are moronic. He is not paid for his opinion, he is paid to uphold and enforce the law and therefore much to his chagrin, he pulls people over and writes tickets for what he calls “some of the most minor things ever known to man.” Referees are the same way, and there are more than a few who feel that while the enforcement of the much tighter rules can lead to more consistency it has also killed the game in some leagues.

Leaving names out — and I have talked to the zebras across college hockey — many feel that the rules and not their calls are the issue. They don’t call penalties that they wouldn’t ever call if left to their own good feel of the game, they get fired. If they complain, they get told not to.

CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos, to his credit, has wanted to change the old culture of the game by eliminating the refs putting their whistle away when games are tight late. He explained to me years ago that if it’s a trip at 2-0 in the first period, it’s still a trip at 3-3 late in the third.

No problem there, but what the good ref’s were able to do is eliminate the ticky tack call at that 3-3 juncture late in a game and let the players decide the game. You can say they still do, they just have to play by the rules but that is still a pretty gray area. The Notre Dame-Michigan game in South Bend last Saturday was a dumpster fire. Thirteen penalties in the second period, and you can make a case that every one was a letter-of-the-law call. But you got the feeling that the officials in the game, who did a good job, would have loved to keep their arms down on some of the borderline calls and let two great rivals play it out.

That brings up the second point, and that is if you have seen games across all six conferences (and I have), you get the feeling you are watching six different rulebooks. In one conference, you need to kill someone to draw a penalty. In another, if you sneeze near someone you might get nailed for obstruction. It is way too inconsistent and that brings up the point that it might be time (if it can be done financially) to have NCAA hockey officials as opposed to conference officials. I know this has been tossed around and it is expensive but the system, as currently constituted, isn’t very consistent nationwide.

Can it be possible with enough advance notice to have every ref in the nation at the same training seminar as opposed to six different ones where six different interpretations of the points of emphasis could exist?

Frank Cole and Ty Halpin at the national level as well as Piotrowski and other conference supervisors nationwide are bright people who work tireless hours to provide the best officials, system of officiating, and rules to play by. If given the time and resources, they’ll get this fixed. The question is do enough people think it is broken? That, we’ll see in the off season.

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