Saturday, November 03, 2012

Saturday Hockey Notes and Thoughts: Dangerous, Controversial Hits Take Headlines

(Yeah, I took a week and didn't update the blog. Sue me.)

Off weekends aren't the best, because we all enjoy what we do, and an off weekend means we don't get to cover the team that we normally cover.

What does it mean? In the case of Friday night, I'll park my expanding posterior on the couch and watch hockey on television.

There were some very good games on, too. Minnesota State-Minnesota was on Fox Sports North, Colorado College-Wisconsin on Fox Sports Wisconsin and Altitude, and Boston University-North Dakota was beamed on Fox College Sports and NESN.

Unfortunately, two of the three games featured hits that were -- at the least -- a tad controversial.

We'll start in Grand Forks, where North Dakota got a Connor Gaarder hat trick to topple Boston U. 4-2.

Gaarder's hat trick came only after he took a hit from behind by a BU player that was called a cross-check. I don't have this particular hit on video, but it was a borderline hit, the kind that could go either way. The best argument for a five-minute major -- outside of the fact that Gaarder was in a vulnerable spot near the boards -- is the idea that most officials will clamp down on these hits in the early part of the season.

The controversy came in the second period, when North Dakota captain Andrew MacWilliam was ejected from the game. Via the indefatigable CJ Fogler (@cjzero on Twitter), here is that hit.

Referees Derek Shepherd and Marco Hunt assessed a major penalty for contact to the head.

Given that Danny O'Regan's hit on Gaarder was only a minor, I'm not a huge fan of this call from a consistency standpoint. I don't think there is flagrant head contact. MacWilliam didn't go for the head of the BU player.

Instead, what bothers me is that the BU player held his head after he got hit, stayed on the ice for quite some time, and then was back in the game 90 seconds into the ensuing power play.

We're supposed to be cracking down on concussions, and we're supposed to be vigilant about head injuries. With that in mind, I don't think it's wise -- as a sport -- to allow players to return to a game less than two minutes after leaving the ice with a head injury.

I'm not about to accuse BU's Ahti Oksanen of embellishment. I couldn't pick him out of a police lineup if he was standing with four UMD players. I don't know his playing style or tendencies, so it wouldn't be fair.

But it sends a very poor message to players if they think they can take an apparent shot to the head and come back to score during the power play that the hit led to. We joke all the time for guys to stay down and sell potential major penalties, but this sport is not helped by players doing that.


In Minneapolis, a bizarre sequence came towards the end of Minnesota's 3-2 win over Minnesota State. With the MSU net empty, Mavericks captain Eriah Hayes hit Minnesota forward Kyle Rau from behind, allowing for an opportunity for Minnesota to pull its goalie ahead of a penalty call. For a short time, both nets were empty.

Here's that hit, also courtesy of Fogler.

I don't like this one bit.

Hayes never sees anything but the back of Rau's jersey. In that situation, with Rau in relatively close proximity to the boards, no contact should be considered permissible. In the middle of the game, it's hard to imagine Don Adam and Timm Walsh letting Hayes get away with a paltry two-minute minor for charging.

Yet, with nine seconds left, that's what they called.


I get that there is no rule or precedent for Hayes being required to sit on Saturday. But this is something we've brought up in discussions both on the air and on Twitter before. Why isn't there a mechanism to penalize players for dangerous and illegal hits late in games -- hits that don't necessarily rise to the level of a game disqualification?

Last Friday, we saw Wisconsin captain John Ramage slew-foot UMD freshman Tony Camaranesi in the waning seconds of the game. With no real recourse, Adam and Walsh chose not to call a major penalty at 20:00 of the third period.

This week, virtually the same thing happens with Hayes.

I don't know where to draw the line, or how to enforce it. But if the trend of flagrant penalties late in games continues, I'd expect to have some sort of an idea by January.

For now, I know I don't like seeing these kinds of hits. Hayes' hit on Rau was on a vulnerable player in a dangerous position. If Rau were three or four inches taller, it could very easily have led to an injury.

It was fitting that MSU's lack of discipline ended any chance at a comeback. It was that problem that led to all three Gopher goals, which came on power play chances. The Maverick penalty kill is struggling. They missed on a number of clearing chances, got simply out-worked most of the night by the Gophers, and eventually succumbed to UMTC's superior skill.

On the bright side, Teddy Blueger is going to be a player, Maverick fans. Actually, MSU has a lot of young forwards with a ton of potential.


In Madison, Colorado College trailed 2-0, but rallied and eventually beat Wisconsin 5-4 in overtime. Alexander Krushelnyski scored the winner less than 30 seconds into the extra session.

Zach Raubenheimer scored short-handed in the waning moments of Friday's 2-1 win for Nebraska Omaha over Michigan Tech. The Huskies are clearly an improved team, but a killer early schedule has them off to a 1-4 start in WCHA play.

In Denver, St. Cloud State scored two in the first and ended up beating the host Pioneers 3-0. Ryan Faragher pitched a 27-save shutout. SCSU won without forward Ben Hanowski, out with an upper-body injury. Nic Dowd -- a potential star in the making -- scored two goals in the win.

Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage joined UMD on the sidelines this weekend.

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