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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Two good to be true
Army offers rave review for new two-ref system


Right about now is the time for all collegiate puckheads/debate enthusiasts to strap on the rope burn-proof gloves and rev up the tug of verbal war. After all, that’s what all of the bystanders of professional hockey have perpetually engaged in ever since the NHL took on the two-referee system nearly a decade ago.

Earlier this summer, after using it as sparse experimentation throughout last season, the NCAA has opted to go with the four-head zebra crew full-time in Division I hockey and has not ruled out doing the same for Division III in the not-too-distant future.

The pro v. con contests that have periodically stormed hockey talk shows, columns, and fan forums –always with the same sort of ammo for both sides, it seems- hasn’t left the college game untouched all this time. As far back as 2003, the likes of Maine head coach Tim Whitehead have come forward to make a case for change. That year, the then nine-member Hockey East coaches’ panel put forth 5 yays, 2 nays, and 2 indecisions to bring on the second ref.

“The two referee-two linesmen system would give us better ice coverage and it would also allow us to add some young referees to the old boy network,” Whitehead said at the time to the Bangor Daily News. “We felt one referee can’t cover the entire ice sheet and the two assistant referees were being distracted by their multiple responsibilities so they were missing some icing and offsides calls.”

Somehow or other, though, the popular vote found no fertile ice, primarily owing to a lack of similar innovatory interest amongst fellow Division I conferences. When the topic resurfaced again last year as chiefly nonconference contests gave the two-ref format test runs, it was taken for a surefire insititution come 2008-09, which it will now be thanks to the June ruling by the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Rules Committee.

PC men’s coach Tim Army, who experienced the NHL’s advent of the system as a Washington Capitals’ assistant, is “thrilled” by the college game’s option to finally follow suit.

“This system will allow for a stricter enforcement of the rules, thus enhancing the overall speed of our game,” he said this week. “The emphasis on speed will create more open lanes that can be exploited with quick puck movement. Speed and possession will produce better transitional and cycling play which will increase offensive activity in the scoring areas resulting in greater goal production.”

Chances are, Army is thinking beyond the one night last season that his Friars had two orange-armed officials presiding the action, an 8-0 pillaging of Brown. Greater goal production, he says? Touché.

Then again, the nub of a dissenter’s case was in full throttle that night. Brown, a team that averaged 7.13 penalties per game in 2007-08 was whistled for a hefty 13 two-minute minors in the Mayor’s Cup. The Friars were flagged nine times, an even four above their game-by-game median of five.

Doesn’t that presage a menacing nightly rate of whistle-stops? Not in the long run, Army prophesies.

“At first there will be a rise in penalties,” Army conceded. “But eventually coaches and players will make the necessary adjustments. Most importantly, the game will be impacted by the most highly skilled players as the ice will open up for their speed and intuition.”

For what it’s worth, the PC women attested to that philosophy when they took a double-dose of two refs last November over a two-night visit to Ohio State. Game 2 of that series saw a gratifyingly slim three Friar penalties after there were twice as many the previous night.

The skeptics are bound to persist with the contention that –increased calls or not, sharp determent of daring infractions or not- an additional set of skates on the ice will inevitably clutter the action. There’s that, and the notion that a pair of refs might breed the danger of deterimentally differing interpretations of the rulebook. But as Army’s viewpoint underscores, people have been saying that since 1998 and all the while the NHL has pressed on with no standout pimples.

“That has not been a problem in the NHL,” he said. “With that representing the best league in the world, I am certain that won’t be a problem in the NCAA.”

CHA officers, tenants holding breath
Only in the last week did interim College Hockey America commissioner Ed McLaughlin imply the actuality of his shriveling conference perhaps holding its now four-team pool out of action for the 2008-09 campaign. On Monday, McLaughlin assured US College Hockey Online inquisitor Matt Mackinder that it’s on for at least one more year, but that the long-term viability of the league is “at the mercy of the NCAA.” Mackinder’s report suggests that the new Wisconsin Badger rule –i.e. no losing teams in the national tournament- could be manipulated as a way of barring the CHA champion from the conventional automatic bid next spring given the league’s arid history in interconference play.

With the demise of Wayne State’s program, the men’s sect of the geographic hodgepodge will have only Alabama-Huntsville, Bemidji State, Niagara, and Robert Morris at its disposal. In the eventuality of the CHA’s disbandment, McLaughlin said he is banking on its refugees finding new auspices.

True, it wouldn’t be any sort of stretch to envision New York-based Niagara and Pennsylvania-based Robert Morris finding homely positions in, say, Atlantic Hockey. But conversely, Minnesota-based Bemidji State has been expressly refused in repeated hypothetical suggestions of a merger into the WCHA and a handful of you readers are probably learning for the first time that Division-I hockey resides in Huntsville.

Florida deal for Wildcats, Badgers
While Fort Myers, Fla. scuttles in the effort to curb any prospects of the Red Sox bolting their spring training grounds, college hockey will augment its intake of the community’s athletic hospitality this autumn through a regulation two-game set between the New Hampshire and Wisconsin women. The host barn, the 7,128-seat Germain Arena, which for the last eight seasons has been a fixed holiday haven for the Maine and Cornell men as the site of the Florida College Classic, will host the two reigning Women’s Frozen Four semifinalists in a Friday sunset-Saturday matinee deal over the weekend of November 21-22.

Strictly speaking, Germain Arena is actually part of a Ft. Myers-area “census-designated place” known as Estero, though the keystone franchise, the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, likes to flaunt itself as the full-time team for greater Fort Myers/Naples. In addition to the December men’s invitational, the arena has proudly taken in the club hockey team for Florida Gulf Coast University and hosted two ACHA national championships in the last three seasons.

Yung meets her elders
Rising PC sophomore Amber Yung will rejoin her summer teammates at this week’s Lake Placid-based US Women’s National Festival as one of seven defenders named to the U22 select team last month. The festival –featuring 64 players of three different age groups (18 and under, 22 and under, 22 and over)- will be conducted from August 12-22. Although, the U22 team –guided by former PC skipper Jackie Barto- will culminate their camp on August 18, two days before they have priorities in Pierrefonds, Que., site of this year’s three-game Canada exhibition series. As part of the tune-up, Yung and 2006 Friar alumna Karen Thatcher will clash this Thursday and again next Sunday evening when the U22 Blues scrimmage with the O22 Reds, both 7 p.m. face-off times.

Quick Feeds: Six returning or up-and-coming Hockey East players -BC’s Brandon Maxwell; BU’s Vinny Saponari, David Warsofsky, and Colin Wilson; and New Hampshire’s James vanRiemsdyk and Ryan Bourque- constituted a portion of the US U20 team in its World Junior evaluation camp. Rising BU sophomore Colby Cohen and BC pick-up Tommy Cross (also a Bruins’ draftee) were two self-withdrawn invitees…A Bruins website contributor on rising Merrimack junior Joe Loprieno’s invitation to last month’s prospect camp and it’s implications for the Warriors: “…while the local squad often plays the role of underdog in what could arguably be called the best Division-I conference in the NCAA, Loprieno’s inclusion on the squad is certainly enough to ensure that nobody ever overlooks the Warriors.” Not that any opponents, regardless of rep, would take any team frivolously (particularly the Friars in light of the last season series), but was this assessment fueled by a bribe or a threat?...Monday will mark the fifth anniversary of the untimely passing of Herb Brooks, a former Minnesota-based coaching opponent of a younger Jack Parker and Jerry York before he guided a multi-regional conglomeration of collegians to the most momentous victory in USA hockey history.