Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Gray area in head contact

Todd: Well, Chris, I’ll start by offering thanks for filling in for Jim Connelly this week. I want to get into some of what we saw last weekend, but first I think we need to send best wishes to Denver’s Jesse Martin, who was hospitalized Saturday with three fractures in his C-2 vertebra after a check during the Pioneers’ game at North Dakota. The latest word is that Martin has feeling in his extremities, but still may need surgery, and his season is over.

We’ve heard the call for a few years now to eliminate head contact. But in this situation, I don’t know if there’s 100 percent blame on North Dakota’s Brad Malone. Martin’s head was down, apparently searching for the puck at his feet, when he was hit. Would it have been a clean hit if Martin’s head was up? It’s impossible to know now. But there’s an awful lot of gray area in a pretty important part of the game, isn’t there?

Chris: Some reports said that a penalty wasn’t assessed until the extent of Martin’s injury was clear. Players are getting bigger, faster and stronger, making these kind of high-impact collisions more dangerous. As a result, the same level of hard-hitting intensity can now lead to more injuries. As one coach told me after his player was given a penalty for a hit that seemed clean but resulted in a violent impact and an opposing player being shaken up, “I guess you can get called for hitting too hard.” That has put more subjectivity into the game, but I can see why.

Todd: The referees have to be a little skittish in these situations, too. Our Patrick C. Miller reported in his game story that play continued with North Dakota holding the puck for at least five seconds before play was stopped, seemingly confirming that neither referee called the penalty on contact. That’s troubling to me. If it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty regardless of the outcome. If Martin gets up and skates away, maybe we’re not even talking about this today. But people are looking to referees to get these calls right when they happen, and it has to be tough knowing that everyone else is going to get to judge you with the benefit of slow-motion replay.

Chris: And this isn’t just a men’s hockey problem. The New York Times reported last month that women’s hockey has the highest concussion rate of any NCAA sport. Many are related to unintended collisions that result from players developing into stronger, faster skaters than in years past.

On to another topic. Rochester Institute of Technology coach Wayne Wilson, last year’s Spencer Penrose Award winner, decided before his team’s first true home game last Friday to cancel the ceremony that had been planned to commemorate the banners won by the Tigers last year (Atlantic Hockey champs; NCAA East Regional champs). The Tigers were off to an 0-4-1 start and the message was clear — last year is over and the team needed to put it behind them. The Tigers responded with a 4-3 overtime win over previously undefeated Robert Morris and then a nice 5-3 road win at then-No. 14 Cornell.

Todd: That’s a pretty bold move, but sometimes you have to draw a line. Last year had to be a great ride for everyone connected to RIT. I’m sure, though, that Wilson doesn’t want to have his team known nationally as a one-hit wonder, so you can understand why he’d make a move like that. Did it seem like the team needed that kind of wake-up call? It seemed like it worked.

Chris: After getting outscored 11-3 in a pair of losses at Rensselaer and Union last weekend, I think a wake-up call was in order for RIT. It was a good weekend overall for Atlantic Hockey, which went 3-1-1 in non-conference play. Besides the RIT win over Cornell, Connecticut came back from a 3-0 deficit to get a tie at Union, and both Holy Cross and Bentley beat Northeastern.

Speaking of Cornell, the Big Red allowed 12 goals in its opening weekend. It took six games last season for Cornell to surrender as many. But the Big Red hung on in the USCHO.com poll, dropping from No. 14 to No. 19. Does a team that’s 0-2 with both losses coming at home deserve to be ranked at this point?

Todd: Not to me. Trying to rank the Ivies at the start of November is always a tricky thing because they’re just getting started while other teams have a month on their resumes. I thought Cornell would be one of the top 20 teams going into the season, but two home losses, with the shaky defense that you mentioned rattling the traditional foundation of Big Red hockey has me questioning things. Can I presume they also fell off your ballot?

Chris: The only Ivy that was on my ballot this week was Yale, which looked impressive in the Ivy Shootout. One team that was on my bubble was Merrimack, which split two hard-fought games with Boston College last weekend. I picked Boston University (6-0-1) as my top team. The Terriers have a big game against a resurgent Maine team this weekend.

Todd: That brings me to our last topic — games to watch this week. It’s rivalry weekend in the WCHA, led by Wisconsin at Minnesota (the women’s teams square off, too) and Denver-Colorado College. The Mavericks — Minnesota State and Nebraska-Omaha — square off in a headline writer’s nightmare in Omaha. And in the CCHA, there’s a big series on the docket when Michigan plays at Alaska. What will you be looking at out east?

Chris: Besides the BU-Maine matchup, out East we’re looking forward to Cornell traveling to the North Country to take on Clarkson and St. Lawrence; BC and New Hampshire squaring off in Chestnut Hill; and RIT traveling to Air Force. Those two teams have combined to win the last four AHA titles. Ever the AHA guy, Tuesday night I’ll also be paying close attention to Niagara at Canisius. These two local rivals have even more to play for now that league points are on the line.