The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee is doing its part to reduce the number of concussions and other head injuries by putting an emphasis on contact-to-the-head infractions for the upcoming season.
University of Maine head coach Tim Whitehead, a member of the committee, explained that direct hits to the head, intentional or unintentional, will result in a five-minute major penalty this coming season.
A game misconduct or game disqualification could also be tacked on.
If a player receives a game disqualification, he would not only be tossed out of that game, he would also receive a one-game suspension. If he receives a game misconduct, he would be eligible to play the next game.
The committee met in Indianapolis from June 7-10.
There were no new rules or rule changes because they are implemented in two-year cycles and this is the in-between year.
However, the committee members make recommendations and clarifications pertaining to the current rules and how they should be enforced.
“The contact-to-the-head infractions was the most important point of emphasis,” explained Whitehead. “There are too many concussions, too many contact-to-the-head infractions.”
Whitehead’s Black Bears have been heavily impacted by concussions.
Promising right wing Kyle Solomon had his career ended by repeated concussions with the final one occurring during the 2009-2010 season. Center Kelen Corkum, son of Maine associate head coach Bob Corkum, missed nearly two full seasons of hockey due to post-concussion syndrome and tried to return this past season only to have health issues end his career.
Right wing Adam Shemansky and defenseman Nick Pryor also missed significant time this past season due to concussions.
Whitehead said to earn a five-minute major, the player must deal a blow directly to the head of an opponent.
“If the initial contact is to the chest and (the follow-through) carries up to the head, that’s different (and wouldn’t necessarily be a five-minute major),” he said.
Concussions have been on every league’s mind, including the NHL where two of the league’s stars, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Boston’s Marc Savard, had their 2010-2011 seasons cut short by concussions.
Whitehead said the situation is magnified in college.
“If we lose players to concussions, we can’t call up players to replace them from the minor leagues,” said Whitehead.
Whitehead also said he hopes that the two linesmen and two referees who work games will huddle if necessary to make sure the right call is made on the contact-to-the-head infractions.
He said the other points of emphasis include a crackdown on diving and embellishment.
“It can lead to frustration if it isn’t called,” said Whitehead referring to players who draw penalties by diving. “If it is called, players will notice that it’s not worth it to dive.”
Referees will also be instructed to crack down on face-washing where players rub the masks of opponents during an altercation.
The committee outlined what they consider to be the difference between legally pressing and releasing an opponent along the boards or impeding and drawing a penalty for it.
The committee will be able to suggest new rules for the 2012-2013 season and one includes going to four-on-four play during regular-season overtimes like the system currently used in the NHL.
Under the current college system, teams play five-on-five for five minutes and, if no one scores, the game is declared a tie. Longer overtime periods will also be considered.
“The four-on-four overtime is gaining momentum and that’s exciting,” said Whitehead, a long-time proponent of it. “College hockey is the only elite league that doesn’t use it. We also need to reduce the number of ties.”
He said it is exciting for the players and fans as well and allows skilled players a better forum to exhibit their abilities because there is more open ice.
Other topics that will be discussed for the 2012-2013 season include changing the hand-pass rule. Players can pass the puck with their hand to a teammate in the defensive zone only. The committee could eliminate all hand passes, allow hand passes in all three zones or keep the rule as it is.
The committee may also consider allowing what Whitehead described as “imminent goals” that are wiped out because the goalposts come off their moorings before the puck crosses the goal line. For example, if a goalie falls down and a player shoots toward the vacated net but the net is dislodged just before the puck crosses the goal line, the referee can award a goal if he felt the puck definitely would have gone in.
The way the rule currently reads, only a blatant act by the defending team (i.e. throwing a stick at the puck) can result in a goal being awarded.
Examining a request to research the possible voluntary use of half-shields by players as opposed to the current full-shields and determining whether goal judges need to be used with the advancement of technology are also issues that will be explored.