Thinking inside the box
A small hook here, a tiny slash there, it’s all part of the game of hockey. The plays have always been illegal and often result in penalties, but sometimes players get away with them.They are common finds on the ice, often used as tactics to save goals or halt speedy skaters. This season however, USA Hockey is cracking down, and time in the penalty box is on the rise. Officials will be blowing their whistles even for the smallest hook or hold, or slightest trip or slash, shipping players to the cooler.While calls on the ice will change, the thinking inside the box remains the same:Encaged in a square enclosure, lined with 42-inch-tall walls supporting another 6 feet of fiberglass jetting up into the frosty air, they wait. Grounded on a wooden bench and doomed by sequestration, they serve their sentences.
USA Hockey has put the Standard of Play and Rule Enforcement initiative into effect this season, mimicking the attempts of the NHL during the 2005-06 season to take away players’ gains that are achieved because of an illegal action.”While there will be growing pains and patience needed, the end results, as we’ve already witnessed in the National Hockey League, will be a game where skill can be showcased, instead of hindered through illegal tactics that were once viewed as acceptable,” said Ron DeGregorio, president of USA Hockey in a statement on http://www.usahockey.com.Gazing through the glass from outside the rink, they watch their teammates on the ice – skating harder, hustling faster, playing more conservatively because they’re a man short of full strength. The new “standard of play” includes: Using the stick only for playing the puck; not impeding a player’s progress with a stick; not using hands to hold players; and holding players accountable for acts of an intimidating or dangerous nature.”It’s a lot more strict. There’s a lot less free play,” said Tyler McCoy, a captain of the Glenwood Grizzlies midget-level team, which has played four games under the new system.Referees will still play advantage, allowing play to continue if a player retains positional advantage through clean play despite the illegal actions of an opponent.Keeping the clock under constant surveillance, they wait in agony as the seconds slowly vanish … tick … tick … tick. Isolated from the game, they are stuck with their own thoughts – unable to escape from them.Lifting the opponent’s stick, using stick checks on the lower portion of another stick, battles for body position by maintaining foot speed and skating line, as well as good-old-fashioned, clean, body checks are still legal.
The Glenwood midgets, consisting of players ages 14-18, played their first games of the 2006-07 season on Oct. 21-22 in Steamboat, and the enforcement took a toll on Grizzly Hunter Darien. He spent 22 minutes in two games chilling out in the box. One penalty carried a 10-minute sentence when Darien talked back to the official, but the rest were results of the new rule. In Glenwood’s next doubleheader on Oct. 28-29 in Craig, the games were once again hardly at full strength.”(Officials) are calling a lot of penalties on both sides, so there are a lot of 5-on-4s, 5-on-3s,” said Grizzly head coach Tim Cota. “During the 90 minutes we played there was probably only 6 or 7 minutes when it was 5-on-5.”Angry at themselves, angry at the official – it doesn’t matter – the same two words will repeat through their heads like a broken record.”Don’t score. Don’t score. Don’t score.”They’ll feel guilty if the other team gets the puck in the back of the net, knowing that leaving their team short-handed assisted it.Judging by the games’ scoresheets where the list of penalties were longer than the teams’ rosters, Cota was right. Forty-nine two-minute penalties were handed out, totaling 98 minutes. Granted, some of those minutes overlapped as players from Craig and Glenwood were in the sin bin at the same time, or two or more players from the same team shared a spot in the box.”It hurts the flow of the game,” Cota said.Glenwood won both games, by scores of 5-2 and 5-4. All 16 goals in the games came on power plays.
Cota will now have to do what all the other coaches throughout USA Hockey will be doing – teaching his kids a new form of hockey revolving around the new enforcement.”We just need some time to get used to it, we’ll adapt,” he said.After graduating 13 players from last year’s team, the Grizzlies are a very young squad this season. The Grizzlies hope they can pick up the new rules fast.”I think we are a quick-learning team, but probably for the first few games, it will be a little tough, but we’ll get used to it,” said McCoy, who’s been playing hockey for seven years.Trevor Kroegor, McCoy’s fellow captain on the team, doesn’t view the new rule enforcement as all bad. In fact, if used properly, he believes the Grizzlies can benefit because of the strength of their special-teams unit.
“I kinda like it more because I like to skate fast,” he said. “We are a fast team, and if we can stay out of the penalty box, it will give us an advantage over teams.”They’ll only be liberated from their boxes of confinement through time-completing redemption or goal-scoring defeat. Either way, they’ll eventually return to the ice, joining their teammates who will once again be at full strength.That is, until the next penalty is called and the process begins again.
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.