One of the early stories of the year in college hockey, and the WCHA in particular, is how officials have struggled adjusting to the stiffer rules concerning shots to the head and when to hand out 5-minute major penalties. There's a lot of gray areas, and it can be difficult to make the correct judgement at high speed seeing the play only once. It's not a job I envy.
And then sometimes a player like Nebraska-Omaha's Zahn Raubenheimer comes along and makes things easy. In the first period of last Friday's game against Wisconsin Raubenheimer delivered a hit to Wisconsin's Ryan so dirty it inspired it's own .GIF for your repeated viewing pleasure. When I watched it live, I thought maybe it had been incidental contact, but on replay, it was pretty clear Raubenheimer intended to make contact with Little. The play naturally earned Raubenheimer a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, thought surprisingly not a game disqualification, allowing him to play the following night.
The next question is whether or not Raubenheimer will face supplemental discipline for the hit. I mean, it's the WCHA, so we already know what the answer is. The WCHA's precedent for adding supplemental discipline to an illegal hit is somewhere beyond breaking an opposing player's neck. But maybe the better question is should it be?
Looking at the criteria the NHL uses for suspensions, I think it goes without saying that that qualifies as a blindside hit. The contact was certainly avoidable. Does Raubenheimer specifically target the head? That's tough to say. He certainly targets up high, but judging by the axis Little turns on when hit, I think he got more of his shoulders than head. Raubenheimer isn't a repeat offender.
I will add one more category the NHL doesn't always look at which is context. At the time of the hit, UNO was already down 2-0 very early in the game and had just slogged through a lifeless power play. The hit struck me as a pretty blatant attempt to turn momentum around. Wisconsin would take a 3-0 lead on the resulting power play, but Raubenheimer's hit, combined with a scuffle a few moments later would serve to slow down the game and help get the Mavericks playing with a little more intensity.
The final question is does Bruce McLeod even have the authority to step in in situations like these anymore? He's effectively a lame duck commissioner with eight out of the 12 schools in his league choosing to play elsewhere in two years, with six of those schools choosing so almost directly out of a lack of respect for his leadership. If McLeod was reluctant to intervene into matters before, he certainly may be now.
In the end though I think if the WCHA is really serious about player safety, I think that is the type of play that has to draw at least some supplemental discipline. I can't think of another league in all of hockey where it wouldn't.