Gophers adjust to penalty-calling

Mike Mullen

Before the college hockey season began, six conference commissioners and the NCAA wrote an open memo to the hockey community.

Referees were instructed to enforce a stricter brand of holding and interference penalties. The hope was that eventually the new calls would lead to more open ice, more chances and more goals.

Naturally, there has been a bit of an adjustment period.

Through its first four games of the regular season, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team had spent nearly as much time in a penalty kill or power play as it had playing five-on-five hockey. With 240 total minutes played, the team had 84 penalty minutes, while opponents had spent 90 minutes in the box.

Coach Don Lucia had little problem pointing the finger at his large freshman class early in the season, saying it had earned more than its share of trips to the box. Lucia said this was because the freshmen were coming from junior hockey leagues; where holding and grabbing occur more often than at the college level.

Freshman Kris Chucko, who had spent his last two years playing juniors, said he was willing to accept some blame. Three games into the season, Chucko said, he and the freshmen were still getting used to the new rule enforcements.

“It’s definitely an adjustment for us, coming from juniors, which is really physical,” Chucko said. “But these rules are new to everyone, so I guess we’re all going to have to get used to them.”

Friday’s game against North Dakota saw the penalty-box action reach a fever pitch, with 14 total minor penalties assessed in the first period alone.

Center Ryan Potulny said he thinks the new rules are going to benefit the game at some point. He said he doesn’t blame officials for making the calls the way they’ve been instructed.

“I think, ultimately, they have the right idea,” Potulny said. “They want more open ice for guys to get a chance to show off their skills. But I think eventually we’re going to have to compromise, and (the calls) are going to tame down a bit.”

The Gophers might have gotten their first glimpse of exactly what Potulny is talking about in Saturday’s game against the Sioux.

The first period saw three total penalties. If the roughing and fighting penalties that came during skirmishes at the end of the second period are ignored, the game was nearly spotless.

Potulny said the Gophers, as a team, had talked about watching their penalties. But Lucia said he thought the referee crew – identical to that of Friday’s game – might have simply called a different game.

“I thought that they definitely let a little bit more go (Saturday) than (Friday),” Lucia said. “It was probably a bit of both – they called it differently, and we played differently.”