New Standards of Play? Or Standards of Delay?
By Darren Lowry

This summer, USA Hockey adopted “new standards of play” that were intended to speed up the game and re-emphasize skill.

But has it done so thus far? Some are crying foul over the new way of calling old rules, saying they are unnecessarily slowing down the game.
In what was just a miniscule sampling of opinion from around the Southeast District, Center Ice found that the results and opinions were spread across the board and occasionally heated.

Some, such as Nashville high school coach Rick Heagarty, say the new enforcements are affecting the game tremendously.

“These inexperienced refs who have been told from the powers that be that these are the penalties you need to call, are calling eveyrthing,” Heagarty said. “There is no exception whatsoever. If my stick touches another player, and it’s hampering him from making a play on the puck, boom! Hooking, slashing, interference. It’s been just unbelievable.”

Likewise, Darren Awender, the head coach of the University of Alabama club hockey team, said that the game was slowed down considerably due to so many penalties being called.

“The first couple games that we played there were 40, 50, 60 penalties a game, and you literally wouldn’t go a stretch of 15 or 20 seconds without a penalty being called,” Awender said. “As time has gone on, the flow of the game is getting better and better, because I think the players have adjusted and the referees have adjusted to not call it as extreme.”

Awender also criticized the changes as ridding hockey of the physical nature of play and hard work that characterize the sport.

“It’s not about going out there and just dancing. It’s about a battle and a physical force mixed with grace and elegance. It’s a mixture of physicality and it’s a mixture of fantastic playmaking ability.”

Awender believes that contrary to the changes, the fact that it was so much harder to score before was what made hockey so great.

“The guys that have that fantastic playmaking ability, they can still get around those guys that have the physicalness. That’s what makes them greater players. They can battle through the tough grit and grime of hockey. And I just feel that it’s taken away from that.”

However, not everybody has said the new standards of play have been a problem.
Florida high school coach Perry San said there hasn’t been much of a difference from last year.

“For Cyprus Bay in particular, we haven’t really had that many games with a lot of penalties either way,” San said.

Osbourn Park (Va.) High School club president Dave Zaremsky says in terms of sheer numbers, not much has changed.

“The kids seem to have adjusted well to it,” Zaremsky said. “We have a lot of kids who play junior hockey, so the rules have all been in place a little while there.”
Another area that seems to have adapted quickly has been Atlanta.

Part of that is because the high school league held a preseason tournament to not only determine seedings for the regular season, but to also familiarize everyone with the new standards.

“The first couple of games, we’re into the 20 penalties per team, 30 or 40 penalties total a game for the first few games,” Georgia High School League marketing director Bob Hathaway said.

“But once the boys got a feel of how the referees were going to be calling it, and once the referees were able to work out their consistency.”
As much as coaches and parents are complaining about consistency, the referees say they are working on it.

“It takes a while to call a consistent game,” middle Tennessee referee-in-chief Tony Paradise said. “It’s real easy to slip back into the old mindset.”
Boca Raton assistant coach Dennis West, himself a former referee, says he’s seeing that backsliding happen often in high school games in Florida.
“I was a little disappointed that the refereeing didn’t stay stiffer for a longer period of time, because it is a much better way of playing the game,” West said. “I see everybody’s back on the face-offs, obstructing the movement of the player, and they’re taking picks up ice, down ice, and it’s not being called.”
Opinions around the district are also mixed as to how long it will actually take everyone to adjust to the new standards.

“I think it’s something that will probably take years, actually, because kids who have been able to do things for years that was legal and a good play is all of a sudden now a penalty,” Perry San said.

“I think some of the young players coming up will know that you’re not allowed to impede the opposing player with your hands. I think the fact that they won’t be in those habits will make it easier for them to adjust in the near future, where some of these other players, it might be a little tougher and take a few more years.”
For the most part, those around the district say the referees have been good at communicating why they’re calling the penalties they’re calling.
“The officials will listen to your feedback as long as you calmly tell them about it,” Zaremsky said. “We try to send our captain over to ask them the questions, and sometimes the officials will come over to you and explain why they made a call, because of the new rules.”

Ever since the season began, referee-in-chief for the Southeast District Jim Dewhirst says he has been monitoring the complaints he receives, which are becoming fewer.

“The thing that I’ve been hearing lately, and actually have been seeing myself, is that those numbers in penalties have come down drastically,” Dewhirst said. “In this whole thing, I think the people that have had the toughest adjustment have been the parents.”

Danny Geoffrion, the father of Nashville Predators draft pick Blake Geoffrion, said there has always been one constant in hockey, no matter what the rules.
“The referee’s always going to be the game-maker or breaker. I guess it’s just going to have to boil down to the players being disciplined enough to try to read the referee and play accordingly.”

Geoffrion is at least able to inject his sense of humor into the whole issue.
“Guess we’ll just have to wait until all the referees in the world get better,” he laughed.



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