Atlantic Hockey commissioner discusses lengthy suspension, state of the conference

Atlantic Hockey commissioner Robert DeGregorio visited the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Sunday to present Canisius junior Ryan Bohrer with the conference’s 2011-12 Student-Athlete Award before the Golden Griffins’ game with ECAC foe Clarkson.

Just over a week earlier, the arena had been on the commissioner’s radar for a more controversial reason — Canisius forward Matthew Grazen’s illegal check from behind on George Michalke of Air Force.

Grazen, who received a five-minute checking from behind penalty and a game disqualification, was slapped with a seven-game suspension, a penalty that exceeded the six-game punishment doled out to former Canisius defenseman Carl Hudson following the Griffs’ infamous brawl with Rochester Institute of Technology in 2008.

Michalke was taken from the ice on a stretcher after the hit. He is still recovering from injuries sustained in the incident.

In a Nov. 1 press release, the Canisius athletic department stated that the school “strongly disagree[d]” with the suspension, noting that “… following college hockey precedent, a two-game suspension for a checking from behind penalty would have been appropriate for a first-time offender.”

On Sunday, DeGregorio explained the punishment.

“I know that people are trying to compare this to what happened in other leagues,” DeGregorio said. “But I am the commissioner for Atlantic Hockey. My job is to provide a safe environment and to apply the rules of the NCAA to our league.

“I’m not responsible for what happened in Minnesota a year ago,” the commissioner continued, in apparent reference to Gophers forward Kyle Rau’s one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Denver’s Jason Zucker, “or in Hockey East or in any of the other leagues. Nor do I comment when I get calls. I am responsible for my league. In viewing what had happened, and the extent of the injury — and one of the things that I do and others don’t, is they don’t weigh the extent of the injury — I felt it was important.”

DeGregorio took a unique approach to the suspension. Grazen, who missed the Griffs’ road trip to Minnesota on Oct. 28 as part of his NCAA-mandated suspension for a disqualification penalty, was prohibited from playing in Canisius’ two-game series against Clarkson last weekend and will miss upcoming contests with Robert Morris on Nov. 9, RIT on Nov. 10 and archrival Niagara on Nov. 16.

Grazen will then complete his punishment later in the season when the Griffs travel to Colorado Springs to face Air Force on Feb. 15-16, a move made by DeGregorio in an attempt to diffuse potential on-ice retribution.

“I think that what’s going to happen is that it’s going to be a year before [Air Force] comes out here [to Buffalo],” he said, “and it will be for two [games], based on the schedule. Hopefully the cadet will be back playing and Matt will be back playing and bygones will be bygones. We will have had a year to have everybody’s souls heal and, hopefully, to forget.”

In other Atlantic Hockey news, DeGregorio said he was generally pleased with the quality of AHA hockey in 2012-13 but hoped to see a few more wins against non-conference heavy hitters in the future.

“We need to start knocking off more [non-conference foes]. I mean, we’re knocking off our share, but we need our share to be bigger,” he said. “That’s when our league’s RPI is going to improve and our exposure is going to improve. Canisius had a great game against Minnesota, [losing] 1-0. Imagine what the headlines would have been if we had won 1-0 in Minnesota, and what that does for our league strength and RPI and everything. We need, not just from Canisius, we need all of our teams to have these big wins.”

DeGregorio also hinted at expansion in coming seasons, mentioning that the conference was in talks with four unnamed schools. He also said that preparations in Pittsburgh for the Robert Morris-hosted Frozen Four at the Consol Energy Center in 2013 were going “great,” and that he was pleased by all he saw in a recent site visit.

“Everybody’s happy,” DeGregorio said. “The Penguins, their organization and the owners of the facility are doing everything they can to make it a big hit.”