USA Hockey Follows NHL’s Lead, Adopts ‘New Standard of Play’
By Darren Lowry

If you liked the wide-open game the National Hockey League played last season, get ready. It’s coming to a rink near you!

At the 2006 Hockey South Conference, held at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, USA Hockey officials followed the NHL in mandating stricter enforcement of rules for hooking, holding and obstruction, calling it “a new standard of play.”

 

USA Hockey said the new standard has been adopted to open up the game and emphasize speed and skill.

However, that doesn’t mean the shift in the way games are officiated will be easy for everyone.

“We know that the initial stages are going to be bumpy, no different than what happened in the National Hockey League,” USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio said. “It’s going to take patience from all five stakeholders in youth hockey, including the parents, the coaches, the referees, the administrators and the players.”

Certainly, the group drawing the most attention will be the referees.

“Frankly, the guy I’m worried the most about is me,” Southeast District referee-in-chief Jim Dewhirst said. “I’ve been reffing for 25 years, and I have a certain standard. I’m kind of a let-’em-play guy. I’m gonna have to learn that I have to make these calls.”

 

Unlike NHL referees, of course, most USA Hockey officials don’t have the benefit of video replay to assess their performance or a group of replacements ready to step in should they not adjust right away.

“The important thing to realize is that there are no new rules,” Southeast District referee-in-chief Jim Dewhirst said. “It’s just an emphasis on how those rules are called.”

DeGregorio added that the stricter standard has already been applied, starting at a recent 16U and 17U festival.

“The second time it went okay at the end, but initially, it was bad,” DeGregorio said. “I think the truth is, we did not educate the players with enough time in the 16 group. For the 17, we did, and they were able to adapt.”

DeGregorio also said that with the NHL having played a season with the new standard, the transition should be a little smoother.

“It helps us going forward because people watch the game and it re-enforces the style. It re-enforces the benefits that are derived by playing it this way,” he said.
 
More information about the rule enforcement changes are available on the USA Hockey Web site, www.usahockey.com

 

SE District Director Tom Lenz speaks at the awards luncheon during the 2006 Hockey South Conference in Nashville.

In another across-the-board change, USA Hockey now requires that all coaches wear helmets before, during and after games. DeGregorio likened the wearing of a helmet to wearing a seatbelt.

“We saw that, statistically, over the last five years we lost five coaches,” DeGregorio said. “A simple helmet is not an impediment to thinking.”

Southeastern District coach-in-chief Bob McCaig echoed DeGregorio’s sentiments, saying, “I think it’s more of an ego, macho thing of former coaches that don’t want to wear it and mess up their hair and not look pretty anymore. I just think it’s a behavior change that’s gonna benefit us, because if it saves one life, it’s worth doing it. In fact, I need to go out and buy one.”

Southeast District Notes

Southeastern District high school representatives present agreed to participate in the Center Ice Tournament of Champions, planned for March 23-25 at Southern Ice Arena in Franklin, Tenn. (See the story on page ___.)

At the SYHL meeting, representatives updated the status of their city or rink programs, reported on planned tournaments, approved the budget and elected new board members, including a successor to president John Cox, who is stepping down.

Most of the cities represented at the SYHL meeting reported at least steady growth in their travel programs. However, Memphis, Baton Rouge and Jackson said hockey in those municipalities is struggling.

The latter two cities are still trying to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, while Memphis remains without a rink. The Baton Rouge and Jackson reps said participation is dwindling in their cities. Memphis warned that “we could be seeing the end of hockey” if a rink is not built soon.

The Southeastern District’s annual high school report says the growth of high school hockey is limited not by a lack of interest but rather by a lack of available ice time in many areas. Many players are choosing to play for their high schools rather than join travel teams.

The Hobey Baker Memorial Foundation contacted the PVAHA to ask if it wants to participate in the Hobey Baker High School Character Achievement Award.

The Award would be given to a player on each high school team who epitomizes hockey skill, leadership, character, sportsmanship and scholastic achievement during the 2006-07 season. The PVAHA is expected to take part.

During the SAHA Board meeting, an addendum to the By-Laws was passed regarding guidelines for Tier II teams that will take effect for the 2007-2008 season. Exclusive details regarding that addendum will be forthcoming in the next issue of Center Ice magazine.

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