GRAND FORKS, N.D. — There will be two common themes when the NCAA Rules Committee meets virtually next month to discuss rules changes in college hockey: speeding up the game and increasing scoring opportunities.
College hockey has the ability to change the rulebook every other year and this is one of those years. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA Rules Committee is proceeding ahead this offseason.
While the top of its list is figuring out how to proceed with overtime, the committee is expected to take a look at several ways to address the length of games and increase scoring opportunities. Here are nine rules ideas that are expected to be among the discussions:
1. Eliminating 5x5 overtime
The three-on-three overtime is here to stay in college hockey.
But instead of the current format used in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Big Ten, Western Collegiate Hockey Association and Atlantic Hockey — where the three-on-three is played after a five-minute, five-on-five overtime — the committee will consider scrapping the five-on-five to shorten the game.
The NCHC will push to make the three-on-three a staple of both conference and nonconference games (it's currently only used in league games) and for it to have some sort of value in the RPI and the Pairwise Rankings, though not as much as a regulation win.
2. Changing video review criteria
One of the biggest complaints from fans is that there are too many video reviews and they're taking too long. So, the committee will look at making changes to the criteria.
But it's a tricky line to walk.
Sure, fans complain about the reviews, but when big calls are missed, they complain that reviews aren't used.
The NHL actually ended up increasing the number of things its officials are allowed to review after two blown calls in the playoffs last year (both plays would have been reviewable in college hockey).
The committee will consider increasing the number of things that can only be reviewed by a coach's challenge and not referee discretion. The committee recently made offside and too many men only reviewable by coach challenges and it may extend that to other areas, like ejectable hits.
That means a coach will have to put the team's timeout on the line to get a review. If you lose the challenge, you lose your timeout. If you don't have any timeouts left, you cannot challenge a call.
3. Penalties for bad challenges?
One concern is that coaches are using their challenges as extended timeouts.
Reviews generally take longer than a timeout, so some coaches are using their challenges to get an extended break instead of simply calling a timeout.
Even though the coach knows there's no chance at winning the challenge, he or she figures that calling for a challenge, explaining the challenge to the official, waiting for the official to go through the video and having the official come back to the bench and explain the decision will take up more time than a traditional timeout.
That can give a team extra rest or it can help kill the opponent's momentum.
One way to potentially eliminate that type of a challenge is by calling a minor penalty on a team for losing a challenge.
The coaching body has been hesitant about getting on board with that potential rules change.
4. Playing the puck off the netting
This will be Steve Piotrowski's last go-around as the NCAA rules editor on the NCAA Rules Committee. He completes his tenure at that spot at the end of the summer.
It wouldn't be surprising if Piotrowski, one last time, brings up the idea of allowing the puck to be played off the back netting for shots that come inside the zone.
That means teams cannot try to dump and chase off the back netting, because those would come outside the zone. But defending players are getting better and better at deflecting pucks into the netting, meaning there are more stoppages. This potential rules change would eliminate a number of whistles and keep play moving.
Piotrowski has long advocated for trying it, but he rarely has received backing on this one.
5. Keeping centers in on draws
If there's a faceoff violation, officials will throw out the center and a winger has to come in and take the draw. This leads to a musical-chairs situation and slows down the game.
The committee is expected to discuss the possibility of leaving centers in after faceoff violations. If there's a second violation, it will result in a minor penalty.
6. Choosing faceoff side
In an effort to increase offense, the committee is expected to discuss the idea of allowing the attacking team to choose the side of the ice for in-zone faceoffs after icing calls or penalties.
Perhaps they have a center who is really good on draws on one side of the ice. After an icing call or a penalty, they would get that advantage of choosing the center's desired side of the ice, which could lead to more scoring chances.
7. A subtle change in line changes
There are already certain situations where teams are not allowed to make line changes. For example, after icing the puck, being called for hand passes or when the defending team knocks the net off of its pegs, they cannot change lines.
The committee will discuss adding one more situation to that: when the goalie freezes the puck on dump-ins from outside the zone. This situation may not frequently occur, but sometimes a goalie will unnecessarily freeze a puck in that situation to get a line change.
8. A slight change at the blue line
A big complaint is that too many goals are being taken off the board for subtle reasons.
The committee will take a look at addressing one of those: offside.
Instead of forcing a player's skate to be touching the blue line on zone entry, the committee will likely propose allowing a player to have his or her skate above the blue line as the puck enters the zone and still be considered onside.
9. Farewell, handshakes?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the face of the U.S. battle against the coronavirus, has said Americans should do away with the handshake.
Right now, the NCAA rulebook advocates for handshakes after every game, but the committee will probably give discretion back to the conferences on that.
For the NCHC, that might mean handshakes will occur only after a two-game series is over instead of after every game. Perhaps, it means handshakes will turn into fist-bumps with gloves, as the NCHC did for the final week of the 2019-20 regular season. Or maybe they'll be gone entirely.
Expect to see some kind of change in handshake procedure.