NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee Approves Several Changes


Thursday afternoon, the NCAA Mens and Womens Ice Hockey Rule Committee approved several changes to the existing rulebook, which will go into effect for this upcoming season as long as the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approves them next month. As our very first article on the blog was about overtime in NCAA hockey, our feelings on that subject are known, but I’m going to provide a summary and commentary on every approved proposal as well.

When a game remains tied after regulation time, teams will play five-on-five for five minutes to determine a winner. If neither team scores, the result will be a tie. No other options, including alternative formats for points in conference standings, will be permitted.

I’m a fan of this one. I know this is a very unpopular opinion. I don’t care. The only arguments for 3 vs. 3 overtime and shootouts are that they’re FUN and that every game has a winner. But they have a number of drawbacks. Most of them boil down to one fact: While the NCAA is an (unofficial) NHL Developmental League, it is not the NHL.

If shootouts were used to decide winners and losers for Pairwise purposes, it would have a much bigger effect on the Pairwise and on bubble teams than one NHL standings point has on the NHL season. Minnesota-Duluth made the NCAA tournament in a 1-in-64 scenario this season and went on to win the National Championship. Does anybody really want a National Championship worthy team to miss the field because some team scored a shootout goal in a game six months ago? It doesn’t even have to be a Duluth game, a Miami vs. Western Michigan game could have provided the 0.001 point Pairwise change. Nobody cares whether the Sabres beat the Hurricanes in a shootout, and it doesn’t affect whether the Bruins make the playoffs. It could very well change the entire season in the NCAA. Do not let shootouts matter for anything in the Pairwise, ever.

3 vs. 3 overtime is very popular, but not particularly akin to a 5 on 5 hockey game. At the NHL level, that’s okay. Even the most lopsided matchups are Alexander Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and John Carlson against Jack Eichel, some Buffalo forward who is not Jack Eichel, and Rasmus Ristolainen (soon to be Rasmus Dahlen). Washington has the advantage, sure, but there are 6 legitimate threats there who all have nothing but pure hockey ability. Parity has never been higher and every team, for the most part, plays the game in a very similar way. That is not the NCAA. There is no professional hockey comparison for BU vs. UMass-Lowell. They’re both wildly successful teams who approach the game in completely different ways and removing players from the ice directly increases the chances of one of them winning and completely ruins the playstyle of the other. Yeah, teams would eventually learn to adapt. But it’s taking away valid and effective ways to compete, and it would be doing so immediately in a sport where players commit years and years before they arrive on campus. Teams couldn’t just up and change their strategies overnight, it would take years to fill the roster with players who embody those strategies and leave those committed in the meantime to get left in the dust.

There is one argument for 3v3 which I accept, which is that too many games end in ties and not enough winners are decided. I agree with that wholeheartedly, But fixing that doesn’t mean blowing up the system. It means some simple, reasonable changes like extending overtime to 10 minutes instead of 5. I don’t think anybody would be against that, some of the western conferences already had 10 minute overtimes in the form of 5 minutes of 5v5 and 5 minutes of 3v3.

Moving on to some of the other changes…

The number of skaters allowed to each team will be increased to 19 (current rule allows up to 18).

This is important to me and I don’t know why nobody has been talking about it. We knew unified OT was coming, just not what it would be. Nobody even mentioned that this was coming.

I like it, and any coach that uses this rule to field any lineup except 12 F 7 D should be immediately fired, assuming they have the correct number of available personnel to do so. Northeastern coach Jim Madigan is on the forefront of this strategy and has used 11 F 7 D lineups to extreme success over the past few years, particularly during the 2016 Hockey East Championship run. If anything, I’m a little bit sad that the rest of the country is about to catch on and follow suit.

7 defenseman lineups provide a number of advantages. You can continue to ice 6 defensemen when a defenseman goes out of the game, whether that’s because he took a penalty, got injured, was ejected, or some other scenario. Running with 5 defensemen is a dangerous game and results in ridiculous ice time for the guys who are asked to pick up the load for the missing man, as NU’s Jeremy Davies learned extensively last year. In addition, the seventh D could be used to do things like get limited game time for young defensemen who have potential to be solid contributors but need to be protected as they adjust to NCAA hockey or allow for teams to dress a PP specialist who is dynamic from the point but not defensively responsible enough to take regular shifts on the top pairings. Regardless of how you use the spot any particular game, it increases creativity, adds options, lets coaches coach more effectively, and lets players deploy more effectively while mitigating the potential dangers posed by players becoming unavailable during the game. No-brainer.

One significant change is to allow the use of video review in situations where ejecting a student-athlete is being considered. Because such calls are critical, and officials must currently make these determinations after viewing the play in real time, the committee believes this change will be a positive.

This is fine. To be honest I thought this was already a thing. Maybe it was only a Hockey East rule? No reason to eject somebody without further review. NU has had some questionable ejections the last year, a Matt Filipe goaltender interference major when he was pushed from behind comes to mind.

The committee redefined slashing to encourage better enforcement and specifically identified this as an illegal defensive tactic.

This is also fine and matches the new NHL crackdown on slashing.

For a substitution to be legal, the player coming off the ice must be within 5 feet of their bench before the substitute may contact the ice.

Full disclosure: I have no idea what the old threshold was, but I think it was more than 5 feet? Also fine. Lowell is known for making questionably legal changes to prevent breakaways and odd-man rushes that are forming, so hopefully this helps put an end to that.

A player who catches the puck must immediately place it on the ice for play to continue legally. If a player catches and conceals or throws the puck, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

Pretty sure BU fans personally proposed this because they’re still mad at BC for the end of the Hockey East Semis a couple years back.

In overtime games, each team will have one timeout to utilize in overtime, regardless of whether a timeout was used during regulation play.

I don’t think this was necessary but I don’t really care. I’ll enjoy explaining it to confused fans and watching some poor sap in the DogHouse run Benny Hill 4 times in a game though.

To reduce the number of video review situations, coaches must use a challenge to review goals scored where a potential high stick is involved or plays where the puck touches the netting out of play and leads to a goal.

Okay wait. We literally JUST made a rule adding new timeouts five seconds ago, and now we’re suddenly worrying about how long games take? And we’re doing so by reducing the ability to review illegal goals? This is stupid. Anything that leads to illegal goals being counted (or legal goals not being counted) because a team already used their timeout/challenge is stupid. The end of NU’s 2014 Hockey East Quarterfinal series with UNH was stupid. At least we gave everybody an extra timeout in OT to prevent this from happening then? (Unless you already lost a challenge then, oh well, who wants to get a game ending call right anyway? Am I right? At least you can use your extra timeout to yell at the refs… nope the game is over. Try again next time. Hope the game wasn’t important.)

I hope everybody enjoyed a 1400 word article criticizing some hockey rules! October is only 4 months away folks. Getting closer by the day.