Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts

UMD picked up a huge 2-0 win over Wisconsin Friday night. Power-play goals by Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly were more than enough to support junior goalie Kenny Reiter's 22-save shutout. With the win and North Dakota's loss to Minnesota (woo!), the Bulldogs moved back into a first-place tie in the WCHA standings.

At this point, North Dakota owns the tiebreaker over UMD because they have one more league win (the teams split their series 1-1, and the Amsoil Arena opener didn't count in the league standings), but UMD is in front of UND in the updated Pairwise rankings.

Those have the Bulldogs at No. 3, behind Yale and Boston College, both of which were idle Friday night. North Dakota slipped to No. 4, one spot ahead of Denver. Two other WCHA teams -- Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin -- are in the top ten.

Of question in Friday's UMD win was the 12 minutes of penalties Fontaine had to serve after being called for shooting after the whistle. It's the second time UMD has seen the crew of Brad Shepherd and C.J. Beaurline call Fontaine for shooting after the whistle, with the first being at North Dakota in the Friday game. That was a more controversial call, as it appeared most of the players on the ice were unaware that there was a whistle. In this case, the whistle from linesman Dan Dineen was loud and clear, and Fontaine's shot was high and hard at Wisconsin goalie Scott Gudmandson.

On that particular penalty, the officials have no discretion. Rule 6, Section 46 calls for an automatic minor penalty and misconduct for shooting after the whistle. The referee's only discretion on that play is to potentially add a game misconduct or disqualification if the violation is deemed serious enough. The misconduct is automatic.

People were asking me after the game why that play happens so often (late shots) without a penalty being called. This is exactly why. Referees don't have any discretion to only send a player into the box for two minutes, and unless it's a really late shot, there's just no reason to stick a player in the sin bin for 12 minutes.

Obviously, Shepherd and Beaurline feel differently, and that's fine. Late shots (especially when they're high like Fontaine's was) need to be stopped, and they won't be stopped if referees don't penalize them.

In Grand Forks, Brad's brother, Derek, was working with Marco Hunt, and the WCHA's top officiating crew had to deal with a skirmish between the Gophers and Fighting Sioux at the end of the second period.

Brad Malone's hit on Kevin Wehrs started all the tension, even though things didn't boil over until a minute or so after the hit.

Let's talk briefly about the hit.

Wehrs was struggling with the puck, and Malone popped him, shoulder to shoulder. It's not a head shot. It's not an elbow.

Was it boarding?

A player shall not body check, cross-check, elbow, charge or trip an opponent from the front or side in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently into the boards

By letter of the law, there's simply the question of whether Wehrs was "thrown violently into the boards."

Tough call, but given some of the things I've seen over the years, I have a hard time labeling this as either a dirty hit or an obvious penalty. It's neither of those things.

Of course, given Malone's reputation among some who follow this league, it's probably the worst thing ever done on a sheet of ice.

What was odd about the whole thing was that North Dakota got a power play out of an incident that one of their guys instigated. It was very similar in that way to what happened in the Tuesday game at Clarkson, where a UMD player was checked from behind along the bench, and Clarkson ended up with a power play out of the deal, even though the major penalty was called.

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