Commentary: With rules up for debate, let’s look at shot blocking

Some thoughts to ponder. Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

Rule change year

This is a rules change year for the NCAA, and here are a couple of things I’d love to see on the agenda.

The first is one that I have asked coaches about the past couple of years and about 99 percent of them agree on this. We need to eliminate players’ ability to leave their feet to block shots. While shot blocking is the purest form of team-first bravery and sacrifice you can have, it also eliminates a ton of offense.

I have no problem with a player squaring up, getting in a shot lane and blocking a shot. That is just good, fundamental hockey. It is the concept of having six goalies on the ice that bothers me a bit. It is amazing how many games scouts go to where a goalie plays for a great shot-blocking team, and they’re unable to asses if the kid can play because he didn’t face many good shots. Trust me, it is a discussion the scouts have.

If you push this rule you do get into the minutia of “What if a defenseman does the slide?” The slide is a move used by defensemen to take away the passing lane on a two on one, and it also lets him be on the ice to block a shot if it happens. It is mostly used when F1 and F2 are under the circles, between the dots, and somewhat parallel to each other. It eliminates pass and shot options all in one.

It is a tactical move and several defenseman are great at it. I say that the slide is the exception to the rule; that can stay. It is when a player is winding up for a shot and someone goes prone that should be removed.

This is not something clear cut but at the next coaches convention in Naples, Fla., I’d like to see it tabled for discussion. Back in the 1980s when very few players blocked shots the offense was there in college hockey. Just look at the numbers. There are elite-level NCAA players whose career numbers don’t match Mike Donnelly’s best season! That has to change.

Equipment is better and everyone blocks shots. I have no problem with goalies having to face more quality shots and teams needing to adjust to more offense as the defensive team. Teams will pack in anyway, so at least this takes away some of the clutter in the defensive zone and gets some shots through. That creates more scrambles, tips, deflections and chaos by the net. That creates excitement, or as Boston College coach Jerry York and I like to say, “It gets the heartbeat up a bit.”

That leads to part two and it relates to goalmouth scrambles. Last Friday in the Vermont-Boston College game there was a premature whistle in a goalmouth scramble that cost Vermont a goal. The whistle was by the lead referee who lost sight of the puck. That referee was in proper position, behind the net, almost standing on the netting to see the goal line and the back portion of the play.

However, he had absolutely no clear sight line to the front of the goalie and no ability to see if the puck was still loose. He blew the play dead because he lost sight. Of course he did; from where he was standing he couldn’t see the puck to begin with. He was blocked by the goalie.

Here is another rule I’d like to see implemented to the officials who have screwed this call up across five conferences for the better part of four years. The low, or lead, referee, the one behind the goal whose view can be obscured by his position, should not be allowed to shut down a scramble in the slot. That has to be the job of the other referee, the one out by the blue line who can be encouraged to move lower to see the scramble.

The next night the exact situation happened again, and credit to the stripes who let the play live and handled it well. You have to give credit where credit is due, and they got it right Saturday.

Video review

I’m not going to say a ton here because most of the time these video sessions get the correct call. However, there is one school that I’ll keep nameless that decided that it would not provide TV replays to the officials booth and it cost a visiting team a potential goal. That needs to be fixed.

Paul Kelly

This is another unique situation. Much has been written about Kelly’s departure from College Hockey Inc., the marketing arm of college hockey under the direction of the Hockey Commissioners Association. Kelly has done a lot for college hockey. His contacts were invaluable in discussions with the NHL. His savvy media presence, ability to communicate and work ethic made him a tremendous asset in college hockey. He got things done that helped the game.

I’m not sure where this goes from here, but Kelly’s loss is a big one. Kelly, I’m sure, is viewed in many ways by many people but his almost unanimous endorsement by the prominent coaches nationwide can’t be ignored. If you ignore the coaches then who are you listening to in terms of what is needed to make the game better and compete against the Canadian Hockey League for players?

Coaches are in the trenches and they felt they had an ally in Kelly. The HCA felt it had legit reasons to feel otherwise. Those are huge shoes to fill. The HCA is on the clock with a huge hire to be made sooner rather than later. That hire could have a huge impact on college hockey. As the character playing former NASA flight director Gene Kranz said in “Apollo 13,” failure is not an option. However, will the next CHI chief be able to do what Kelly did? Tall order.

The ifs and the skinnys

Don’t you just love it when someone says “Well, if …?” Here are a few of those.

If Miami gets good goaltending it is as good as any team in the CCHA. The Skinny … Miami is solid, boasts a great top line and has a lot of tenacity. The RedHawks aren’t fun to play against. They get a buzz saw in Michigan State this weekend. Miami has more skill. Miami goaltending has made believers out of many in college hockey.

If New Hampshire can win Game 1 at Boston University it can win the series. The Skinny … This is a funny series as each team has proven it can win at the other one’s rink. UNH playing the underdog role could be a tough out. BU has been through hell and back and is still here. That has to say something. Both teams are survivors this season for different reasons. BU veteran goaltending is a big factor.

If Rochester Institute of Technology and Air Force play for the Atlantic Hockey title, one of those teams can pull off a win in the national tourney. The Skinny … Holy Cross is 9-0-1 in its last 10 games and Niagara 3-0-2 in its last five. The Purple Eagles are always a tough out. Mercyhurst was solid and there were a lot of over-.500 AHA teams near the top of the standings. This is a real good tourney.

If Lake Superior State can play great defense and limit turnovers it can beat Western Michigan. The Skinny … LSSU has the 13th-ranked penalty kill in the nation, is among the best in not taking penalties and its goals for/goals against is about even. Then again, Lake can be offensively challenged and Western might have the best top-to-bottom defensive corps in the CCHA.

If Massachusetts shuts down Billy Arnold’s line it has a chance to upset No. 1 Boston College. The Skinny … UMass has great speed but BC is as deep as anyone. Any line can be a hero and Destry Straight has awoken the Kevin Hayes-Chris Krieder duo. BC is too deep.

If there is an upset in the WCHA playoffs it is Bemidji State knocking off North Dakota. The Skinny … North Dakota has been beaten up with injuries but is as resilient a team as any in the NCAA right now. The Brock Nelson-Corban Knight-Danny Kristo line is a pretty tall order for anyone. Andrew MacWilliam is a monster on the back line. There’s a good second line. NoDak could bend, but I don’t see them breaking at home.

If Yale’s best players play their best they beat Harvard. The Skinny … Despite four players at a point per game or just under, Yale has liabilities. But the Bulldogs can score. When rivals meet in the playoffs momentum swings are huge. Yale’s front end should determine this series. Many feel this is a bad matchup for Harvard.

If there is a dark horse here to win the national title it is Maine. The Skinny … Maine isn’t the best team out there but it has been pretty good when it has had to be. The Black Bears are on a 12-4-1 run right now, including back-to-back sweeps of BC and BU in the second half, and they outscored opponents 62-43 in that span. They have a win at Massachusetts-Lowell and won a huge 1-0 game to preserve home ice the last day of the season.

The last word

He did a really good job at Alabama-Huntsville and is doing likewise with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Somewhere out there is an NCAA coaching job awaiting Danton Cole if he wants it.