Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I like hockey, but some times I really don't understand it. In particular, I'm not really sure what constitutes a penalty. I used to be able to make that distinction - especially in regards to some of the crap calls PC used to put up with nightly. Now I do not. Maybe the problem is me. Maybe I don't understand hockey as much as I think I do. After all, I can't skate. It's easy to see how I could miss something that trained on ice official did not.

The idea that it's my fault for being uneducated about the finer nuances of the game - and a bit too quick to blame the officials for my team's lack of discipline - is a good one. But this hypothesis dies a quick death when the television broadcasters replay the penalty and I see NOTHING that would constitute a penalty. I'm not just talking about incidental contact or obvious diving by the opponent. I'm talking about players just brushing against one another and the color commentator making a remark that this is a "good call" that the official "had to make". I must be missing something, because for the most part, I don't see these penalties at all in real time or in instant replay.

See, here's the thing: I complain about officials no more or less than a deranged Tommy Heihnsohn. When they replay calls in the NFL, 9 times out of 10, it shows that the official made the right call. When they replay calls in the NBA, 9 times out of 10, the refs blew the call. Hockey used to be somewhere in the middle. Now, I'm completely lost: I try to be fair to officials and wait until I see a replay. The problem I'm having is that the, replay doesn't help anymore.

The two referee system that the NHL uses was recently filtered down to college hockey. This means two things (neither of them good): more penalties and more people in stripes accidentally getting in the way of the play. I think people would like to see hockey evolve into a more free flowing game. They just don't want to see 9,000 ticky tack basketball penalties that always seem to favor one team over another. This was driven home on the Friday game where PC's complete lack of offense and special team play was further muddied by a series of completely random calls. The same thing happened the next night when my wife and our mutual friend and I watched UML shut out UMASS. A seemingly random play would result in a penalty and I had no explanation as to why.

In the third college hockey game of the week, I thought I'd hit upon a plan to figure out these seemingly random calls once and for all. Fortunately, I get the Mega Sports Package From Hell on my cable package and I get the home games for the Golden Gophers. It was fortuitous that the Gophers were hosting MTU in a 2 PM matinee. And it was doubly fortuitous that the WCHA head of officials Greg Shepherd was in the booth with the two announcers. Or you would think that it was fortuitous. Even with the head of officials there, not only did the calls still seem to not make sense (with the exception of some complete stupidity on the part of the Huskies)but the explanations didn't jive with what I was seeing in the replays either. I think I'm doomed to never understand hockey officiating on any level. So let me apologize in advance to any officials for any complaining I might do in the next year or two. Obviously, I'm missing something.

One comment was telling: Mr. Shepherd was asked point blank if the extra ref and rules changes were made with consideration to the fans. He said no. Later on the broadcast, he amended his answer to say that if the rules changes had the desired effect (less stickwork, less clutching and grabbing and thus a more fluid pace), the fans would be a direct benefactor. Still, I just wonder if these rules designed to free up the offense work because the game is opening up or because the entire game is played in the power play. Just wondering...

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