The WCHA is taking plenty of heat for its decision to suspend St. Cloud State forward Aaron Marvin for three games. The league has been late to the party on hits to the head, and it was assumed they were going to let Marvin off easy, or maybe suspend him for one game heading into their home-and-home with Minnesota State, Mankato, this weekend.
Instead, the WCHA dropped the hammer, giving Marvin a three-game ban that will sit him for the entire MSU series, as well as Game 1 of St. Cloud's home WCHA playoff series (opponent TBA).
While it could be argued that this punishment is a bit excessive, it's in line with what the league should have been doing from the start. Not only that, but it's apparently not nearly as bad as what the initial decision called for.
A source with knowledge of the talks has told me that the WCHA's original punishment would have banished Marvin for the entire first round of the WCHA playoffs, and possibly the WCHA Final Five -- should St. Cloud make it there. That ban -- which could have been as high as five games if the Huskies played a three-game first-round series and eight games if it included the Final Five -- was then reduced to its current state on appeal. The source was unclear if the league wanted to keep Marvin out for the entire league tournament, or just the first round. Either way, the suspension was reduced after the school appealed.
When word was released that there was a suspension coming, but the suspension wasn't announced, it made sense that there was an appeal going on. There was virtually no chance SCSU would appeal a one- or maybe even two-game ban. If they were fighting it, you had to assume it was at least a ban that took Marvin out for one playoff game.
I've watched this hit numerous times on YouTube. Obviously, that video is not the kind of quality the league gets to review.
(The league has a system where all games are uploaded to a server for use by teams in film study and the league for reviews. The old days of FedExing tape have gone away, and you don't have to worry about the commissioner leaning toward his laptop screen and adjusting his glasses to watch a grainy YouTube of a controversial hit.)
It's obviously an illegal hit to the head, but it's hard to gauge the intent. Marvin took a shoulder to Wisconsin's Blake Geoffrion, and while he appeared to aim for the head, it could have been a case of bad timing just as easily. That said, players need to be in control of their bodies, and it's very important in this day and age for guys to do what they can to avoid head contact, especially with vicious hits like the one Marvin was throwing on Geoffrion.
But eight games seems like a bit much. I know commissioner Bruce McLeod probably feels some pressure to get a point across before the league's playoffs start next weekend. But it seems this would have been a little over-the-top for what Marvin did. He's a repeat offender, and it was an illegal hit, and it was to the head, but we also have to watch that we're not overreacting over an injury to a star player.
Fans are frustrated with a three-game suspension for this hit, even if it does highlight a pattern of dangerous hits by Marvin (he doesn't exactly frequent YouTube, but there has been a lot of chatter in the league this year about Marvin's physical play). Their frustration is warranted when you go back and watch Marvin's hit on North Dakota star defenseman Chay Genoway in November.
This was a game misconduct and a one-game suspension on top of that.
Yes, the NCAA memo came out the week after this hit, and that was a game-changer when it came to supplemental discipline. It was still a disappointing punishment.
Furthermore, it's a bit irritating that the league has missed more than a few chances to drop this hammer on other players, moves that could have prevented Geoffrion from suffering a concussion and missing a weekend (or prevented Marvin from facing an eight-game suspension).
(MSU's Kael Mouillierat is a good example. He hit UMD defenseman Scott Kishel in the head with an elbow Jan. 16. He was suspended for one game as a result of a game disqualification, and received no other punishment. Perhaps the league could have sent their message at that point, but they chose not to intervene further.)
In the end, players in the WCHA and college hockey need to understand the different culture the sport operates in now. Every hit is looked at, and even the smallest mistake by a player can make a clean hit look like the second coming of Todd Bertuzzi in the eyes of many. The league is going to keep watching this situation, and players can't count on getting away with anything anymore, even if the officials aren't watching.