Four-on-four in overtime?
A hybrid icing rule?
An emphasis on contact to the head penalties?
These will be some of the topics discussed when the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee meets next month.
The committee will make recommendations to an NCAA rules committee that approves changes in all sports and, if approved, they will go into effect next season.
Rules can be added or changed every two years.
These are among several topics discussed at the annual American Hockey Coaches Association meetings in Florida last month.
Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead said when he left the convention, “for the first time in 20 years, I left with a feeling that we’re headed in the right direction with regards to the Canadian [Major Junior] hockey leagues and [U.S.] college hockey.”
Paul Kelly, executive director of College Hockey Inc. addressed the coaches as did United States Hockey League commissioner Skip Prince and Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey.
College Hockey Inc. was formed a year ago by the Division I coaches to publicize the virtues of college hockey and create a strategy in its battle for elite players against Major Junior teams.
Due to NCAA recruiting guidelines, Major Junior teams get access to players at a much earlier age and since players receive stipends, they immediately become ineligible to play NCAA hockey.
Whitehead said 115 Americans played Major Junior hockey last season.
“Paul’s stature and smarts are really pushing the group in the right direction. It’s exciting,” said Whitehead.
Kelly formerly headed the NHL Players Association.
Whitehead added that he was impressed with Prince and Ogrean and their positive attitudes toward college hockey and its needs.
Whitehead said Prince “seemed receptive” to the notion of expanding their league, largely based in the Midwest, to the West Coast and East Coast.
The USHL had 230 players from its 14 teams verbally commit to attend Division I schools next season.
As for rules changes, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, who previously served on the ice hockey rules committee, said there are usually two or three “brand new” rules that are implemented for the upcoming season and a dozen that are tabled for another time or dismissed.
Whitehead said taking a skater off the ice and playing four-on-four in overtime like the NHL is gaining support but there are still a lot of coaches who would like to keep it five-on-five.
Whitehead much prefers the four-on-four concept.
“Why wouldn’t we use it? It will reduce the number of ties and would allow skilled players to make great plays to decide the game [in overtime],” said Whitehead, noting it would be more exciting for the fans.
“To me, it’s a slam dunk. I hope we get it done. We’re the only elite league in the country that doesn’t use it. It’s long overdue,” he added.
Bertagna said some coaches at the less successful and under funded programs aren’t sold on the four-on-four because it gives the superior team an advantage in overtime.
Whitehead and Bertagna said the shootout used in the NHL and other pro leagues isn’t popular among the coaches.
Bertagna said there are coaches who feel the college game should mimic the NHL and others who feel the opposite way.
They said the obtainable-pass rule appears to be on its way out but a hybrid icing rule has been discussed.
The obtainable-pass rule waves off icing if it is ruled by the referees or linesmen that a pass along the ice made by a player in his own end is within the range of a player in an on-side position even if that player doesn’t touch the puck. In pro hockey, the potential pass recipient must touch the puck to avoid the icing.
The obtainable pass, a strategy successfully implemented by UMass Lowell among other teams, was implemented to reduce the number of whistles.
If the recommendation is approved, the potential pass recipient would have to touch the puck next season to avoid an icing call.
As for the hybrid icing call, it would allow a team to ice the puck without consequence if it is ruled that one of their players was the first one to reach the faceoff dot in the offensive zone.
In pro hockey, there is touch icing, meaning a player on the defending team has to touch the puck first to earn the icing call. If an attacking player touches it first, the icing is waved off.
“The hybrid icing would almost be worse than the obtainable pass,” said Whitehead, who feels it would take skill out of the game like the obtainable pass did.
Bertagna added that it would make life more difficult for referees and linesmen because they would have to decide who won the race to the faceoff dot.
“There’s more of a gray area,” said Bertagna.
The contact-to-the-head penalties appear to be a primary emphasis next season in light of the attention being paid to concussions at all levels of sports.
Hitting from behind has had a similar emphasis in recent years.
Whitehead said one way to cut down on contact to the head is to encourage referees to call game misconducts on top of the five-minute major penalties if they feel it is warranted. If they assess a game misconduct, the player would be ejected from that game but could play the next game.
If they assess a game disqualification to go with the five-minute major, that would mean the player would miss the next game in addition to the rest of that game.
Whitehead feels referees are reluctant to call game disqualifications unless they are blatantly flagrant penalties because of the extra-game suspension.
Bertagna said it is important that the infraction be properly interpreted.
“If a 6-foot-6 guy makes contact with a 5-foot-8 guy, it would be hard for him not to make contact to the head of the smaller player,” explained Bertagna.