How the game has changed: following up after Jablonski injury
Hockey rules in Minnesota have changed. How long did it take for players to feel the impact?
“First game, first shift of the year,” said junior defenseman Luke Erickson. “I thought it was a clean hit, and I got kicked out.”
Charging, cross-checking, tripping, boarding, holding, hooking, slashing, spearing; take your pick. All of these offenses earn hockey players penalties in order so keep the game safe. So what’s the problem?
Following the paralysis of Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey player Jack Jablonski last year, the Minnesota State High School League changed its rules so that checking from behind (which used to be a two-minute minor penalty with a 10-minute misconduct penalty) now results in a five-minute major penalty and a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Contact to the head and “boarding,” (defined as a “check, cross-check, elbow, charge or trip” that sends an opponent “violently into the boards” by the MSHSL) are now major penalties as well. Major penalties can be game-changers because the player in the penalty box must stay there the whole five minutes (even if the other team scores, unlike with minor penalties). These rules were implemented for their first full season this year, and players, coaches and spectators have mixed opinions on the effectiveness and necessity of the changes. It’s also taking time to adjust to what the implications of these rule changes entail.
Erickson’s first game, first shift he was ejected and received a five minute major penalty and a 10 minute misconduct penalty (served by another player because it results in automatic ejection) in the the Nov. 27 game against Dodge County. While Erickson said that refs are making consistent calls, it can be difficult to distinguish between a clean or dirty hit.
“If you’re a bigger guy and you’re knocking down little kids they’re going to call you more,” said senior captain and defenseman Jacob Eggers. “Like Luke Erickson; he gets knocked around sometimes but because he’s bigger if the other guys are doing something cheap [the refs] don’t call it.”
Coaches are also concerned with making sure these potentially game-altering rule changes are called consistently after they saw its implications in the latter half of last season.
“The only issue I have with the rule change is that they call it during the year and a little bit during the playoffs, but then in section finals and state tournament games the same rules weren’t really applying,” said Minnehaha boys hockey coach Patrick Griswold. “With the head contact and the boarding, they were calling roughing and charging penalties instead and only giving them two-minute minors instead of five-minute majors.”
While rule changes bring definite concerns, their purpose is clear.
“It’s gotten out of hand,” said Griswold about checking from behind and boarding. “Kids just aren’t being taught the right way to check, [so] there are a ton of injuries.”
There has been controversy regarding if the culture of hockey can move away from the largely physical aspect, which some argue to be integral to the game. Either way, players have been forced to adjust to the rule changes.
“It definitely hurts the teams that don’t have a lot of depth,” said Griswold. “When you’re killing penalties for five minutes and you have your guy in the box for 15 minutes (because the ten-minute misconduct doesn’t start until after the five-minute major).”
The rule change has led to more focus on sharpening skills rather than using pure force on the ice, but it’s questionable whether players actually have sharper skills.
“I don’t know if skills are getting sharper, but it’s a slower game,” said Erickson. “Kids aren’t as scared to get hit in corners, they’re holding onto the puck longer and they’re making better moves because they know there isn’t some big guy who’s going to just drop them on open ice without getting a penalty.”
Minnesota high school hockey has a long way to go before players are adjusted to the rule changes and the growing demand for a culture change regarding dirty hits. However, the rule change has been doing it’s job so far: acting as a deterrent.
“I can tell you I’m not hitting as much,” said Erickson, “because I don’t want to get kicked out of the game anymore. Getting kicked out of the game wasn’t fun, for sure. I’m not hitting as much because I just want to play more hockey.”