Games in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association could have more penalties this season.
The increase in penalties and the resulting increase in power plays may even increase scoring and scoring chances in the league.
Referees in the WCHA have been instructed to crack down on interference, league Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd recently said during the league’s annual preseason conference call.
The WCHA has been viewed as a league that allows far too much hooking and holding during recent seasons, thereby allowing less talented teams to neutralize the more talented teams.
But Shepherd said the emphasis on eliminating interference and obstruction is a national one. The NCAA rules committee stressed to the six league supervisors of officials the importance of improving the standard of play by enforcing the rules.
“This is around all hockey, all leagues. We’ve kind of slacked off on the standard of play,” Shepherd said.
WCHA league games averaged just 4.97 goals per game, and the 10 teams in the WCHA combined to score just 2.53 gpg overall last season, the lowest in Division I. Only Michigan Tech ranked in the top 24 nationally overall at 3.32 gpg.
“Holding along the boards, the obstruction, holding a player trying to get into the (offensive) zone, faceoff interference will be called, and it will be called tightly,” Shepherd said. “All officials will do that job. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. The coaches know this.
“We want the players to play. We want them to skate. That’s the biggest thing some of us have heard. We don’t allow our players to skate. They’re hooked or held. We will make sure that doesn’t happen.”
RULES II: The NCAA also is requiring all players and officials on the ice to wear helmets, except during the national anthem.
The change was made after the death of WCHA referee Oliver “Butch” Mousseau, who died of head injuries earlier this year after falling on the ice during warmups before a semifinal game March 18 in the WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He died a week later.
The NCAA also said mouth guards are now recommended but not required for players since they wear full-face shields.
The only other rule change from the NCAA is coaches may challenge offside and too many men on the ice when goals are scored prior to the last two minutes of the game. During the last two minutes and in overtime, the review is the responsibility of the referees.
THE FUTURE: WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson remained confident about the future of the league, even though Alaska (Fairbanks) and Alaska-Anchorage face uncertain futures because of financial issues.
In addition, Minnesota State applied to join the National Collegiate Hockey Conference during the summer, and rumors of another realignment in college hockey include some current members of the WCHA. NCAA Division I independent Arizona State is also looking for a league to join.
“We remain confident and committed to ensuring the WCHA remains a key and competitive component of the college hockey landscape,” Robertson said during the conference call. “We want to take care of the schools that are currently in the WCHA. All 10 schools are important to our existence. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Robertson said he is in constant contact with officials at the two Alaska schools in regards to what could potentially happen there.
Travel and its costs remain the biggest issue facing the league, Robertson said.
“We’re open to all possibilities when it comes to looking at how to better our league,” Robertson said. “The cost is due to travel. Travel is excessive, and there’s no way around it with 10 member institutions. We have to look at ideas in those areas, how we’re scheduling our games and try to limit (the travel).”