ORONO, Maine — You will still see full facemasks on college hockey players for the next two seasons, there won’t be a three-quarter face shield yet, but you will get to see four-on-four play occasionally in overtime instead of five-on-five and there will be three other tweaks to the rules designed to increase scoring.
University of Maine coach Tim Whitehead, one of the 12 voting members on the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee, said that is what occurred at their meeting in Indianapolis last week.
Rule changes are made every two years.
All proposed rule changes must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which meets next month.
College hockey players use the full face shield (a mask with horizontal and vertical bars), but there has been a strong push to go to the three-quarter face shield (clear plastic) to give players better vision which could reduce the number of concussions.
But Whitehead explained that there has been only one year of research compiled on the three-quarter face shield — it was used for the first time in the United States Junior Hockey League this past season — and the feeling was that “we need more time to gather data and more evidence that the three-quarter shield would be a positive for college hockey.”
“The rules committee is in favor of going with the three-quarter shield if the research backs it up over the next two years. This is definitely a step in the right direction and is a collaborative effort between college hockey, the USHL, the NHL and USA Hockey,” Whitehead said. “My gut feeling is that it would decrease the number of serious concussions and it would also improve the quality of play thanks to the improved vision. And it would be almost impossible to get a serious eye injury.”
The other hope is that it would reduce the amount of reckless stickwork.
In a U.S. College Hockey Online story, it said 1,000 college hockey players were surveyed and 83 percent favored the three-quarter face shield to the full facemasks which came into existence in 1978.
As for the four-on-four overtime, Whitehead said a survey indicated that the majority of Division I coaches prefer the current full-strength (five-on-five) format for the five-minute overtime, but many of the Division III coaches and women’s coaches favored the change.
“So it hasn’t been mandated, but it has been approved as an option,” said Whitehead.
That means leagues can elect to use the four-on-four, which is used in the National Hockey League, or coaches in nonleague games can agree to use it. However, both coaches have to agree to it.
“It’s exciting to see it added as an option. Hopefully, enough excitement will be generated the next two years among the players, coaches and fans that it will be implemented in two years,” said Whitehead, a strong proponent of the four-on-four overtime.
“It would decrease the number of ties and provide a more exciting brand of hockey,” said Whitehead, who noted that the majority of Hockey East coaches are against it.
Whitehead said he will try to have it implemented in his nonleague games next season.
College hockey will be aligning with the NHL on the puck-off-the-skate and net-off-its-moorings calls.
The skate rule currently states that the only way a goal will be allowed if it glances in off an attacking player’s skate is if it was definitely accidental.
The NHL rule allows players to direct pucks into the net with their skates as long as there is no clear and definite kicking motion.
“I like this. It opens things up for a few more goals. Statistics tell us that goal scoring has declined due to the emergence of shot blocking and the continued development of goaltenders,” said Whitehead.
The net rule alteration will allow referees to award a goal to the attacking team if the defending team knocks the net off its moorings momentarily as the puck enters the net. Under last season’s rule, it would not count.
During this past season’s NCAA Tournament, an apparent goal by Michigan State against Union was reviewed and waved off because the net was slightly raised off its pegs by a Union defenseman as the puck entered the net.
“It’s a common-sense rule. Most people watching that game thought it should have been a goal,” said Whitehead. “I’m in favor of any rule that increases scoring within the integrity of the game.”
But college hockey is going in a different direction on hand passes.
Players used to be able to pass the puck to a teammate with their glove only in the defensive zone.
Beginning next season, players cannot make a hand pass to a teammate in the defensive zone or any other zone.
The whistle will blow and there will be a faceoff. And the offending team will not be allowed make a line change for the ensuing faceoff.
“The defending team used to gain an [unfair] advantage by being allowed to make a hand pass,” said Whitehead.