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College Hockey Roundtable

Minnesota-Duluth play-by-play announcer Bruce Ciskie has posted questions to an offseason roundtable discussion about potential changes to the college game. I think it's a great idea, and here's my responses.

Has the college game truly seen in increase in stickwork in recent years?

Yes. Some people seem to think that if you took the facemasks off helmets, that would force players to be more careful and keep their sticks down. I don't think that's the right course of action though. There's too much potential for something terrible to happen. The better course is just calling the game tighter.

Do officials do a good job of calling "clutch-and-grab" infractions consistently?

WCHA officials don't do anything well. I think the CCHA has done a better job at cracking down on those types of penalties. Two years ago, I was amazed at how much more open the WCHA was compared to the clutch and grab of the CCHA. I think that's started to switch a little bit the past year or two thanks to officiating.

The problem with calling things tighter is that it puts more of the game in the hands of the officials. Anyone who has seen some of these guys in action knows that that isn't a good thing. Everyone says that if the refs call every infraction, eventually players will wise up and stop. The problem is that what is and is not a penalty is never that consistent, so players don't know what is and what is not a penalty.

I think it's a great idea to tell refs to call games tighter and open up the game, but it has to go much farther than that. There needs to be a lot of education for refs and players so they know what is a penalty and what will be called. There also needs to be more accountability for refs who make bad calls.

What do you think of the "checking from behind" crackdown?

It's going to need some serious adjusting because it was mainly a joke this past season. Early in the season, there were way too many games where the outcome was affected due to one team losing a player and having to kill a 5 minute major thanks to a very soft checking from behind call. By the end of the season, it was back to the way things used to be. A player could get checked hard head-first into the boards and the official would try to call any penalty except checking from behind.

The solution is to find a middle-ground between the 2 minute minor and 5 minute major + game misocnduct. I've advocated creating a 2 minute minor + a 10 minute misconduct for checking from behind. This is still a severe penalty, but not so severe that officials aren't afraid to make the right call.

What NHL rules change would you like to see adopted in college hockey, and which one do you want college hockey to stay away from?

Well I'm fairly sure that the NCAA is going to adopt the NHL's size restrictions for goalie pads, which is a good idea. Goalies have a little bit too much of an advantage as it is. The top 20 goalies in the NCAA last season all had GAAs of less than 2.50. That's not nearly enough scoring. More scoring will equal more excitement.

I also like the NHL's new icing rule. It helps teams keep whatever momentum they have and punishes teams for committing an infraction. It also makes it much more difficult for teams to try and "hang onto a lead" late in the game.

The trapezoid rule seems pretty stupid. There's no need for it in the college game.

The biggest rule change was the shootout at the end of overtime. This is definitely an interesting one. Personally, I thought the shootouts at the end of NHL games this season was brilliant. I know when I was flipping through the channels and saw an NHL game on TV, I was definitely staying on that channel if it was tied late in the game because I wanted to watch a shootout.

I'm not sure it would be right for college though. The NCAA tournament is about twice as selective as the NHL playoffs while playing about half as many games. That makes the regular season games that much more important. I don't think it's right to have a shootout deciding games.

The better solution in my mind is increasing the length of overtime. Five minutes is way too short, especially considering that overtime hockey is one of the most exciting things in sports. I would say play until you have a winner, but it would be ridiculous to play a 5 OT game like Yale and Union did this year. A more reasonable solution would be extending overtime to 20 minutes. A full period of hockey, combined with the smaller goalie pads and more open play would mean more games would end with a winner, rather than a tie, which nobody likes.

What do you think of the increased use of replay in college hockey?

The use of replay this season was great. I think what is most important is that officials get the call right, and there's no doubt that video replay helped them do that. I'd love to see them go a step further and use whatever resources they have at their disposal to make tough calls, even if all games don't have multiple TV angles.

What is one random change you'd like to see made in hockey?

I'd like to see a rule stating that players who have not completed high school can play major junior until they graduate from high school and maintain their eligibility as long as they don't take any extra money. This would allow top players like Peter Mueller, Pat Kane, and Sam Gagner to play hockey at a high level before graduating high school without having to give up their college eligility. I know it's a pipedream since neither the NCAA or the CHL would be interested in this, but I think it would be a good move.