As hockey starts up at rinks all over the United States, this season brings new changes for referees, coaches and players.
The USA Hockey Board of Directors approved several rule changes and clarifications at its annual congress in June. The USA Hockey Playing Rules went into effect Sept. 1 for the 2021-22 season and will run through 2024-25.
District and state referees-in-chief (RICs) have a significant role to play in helping communicate those changes to state and local referees to ensure they understand everything that’s been put into place. It’s an example of the USA Hockey structure ensuring that national changes impact hockey at local levels.
If there’s a major glaring focus that’s reflected in the changes brought forth by the USA Hockey Playing Rules Committee, it is that development and safety in youth and girls hockey are the top priority.
“The two biggest things are the safety and the player development, which is for the betterment of everybody,” said Mid-American District RIC Jim Weaver. “It makes for a better game all the way around for spectators and participants alike. Instead of watching people chase the puck, you actually watch people possess the puck and make plays.”
The biggest rule change in the mind of Weaver as well as Pacific RIC Dan Ellison is the new focus on body checking. A player needs to make a competitive attempt to possess the puck in order to complete a legal body check and the blade of that player’s stick has to be below the knees when making the check. Even in younger leagues without body checking, any contact will have to be seen as a competitive effort to win possession of the puck.
As Ellison pointed out, “How can you gain possession of the puck if your stick blade is up around your shoulders?
“The idea behind a check has always been to gain possession of the puck. I think the emphasis to keep the sticks down while you’re going into a check with the intent of gaining possession of the puck is huge for players’ safety, for the skill development and for the future of the game.”
Weaver noted this change is going to be a big adjustment for officials. They’re going to need to change their criteria to determine what’s a legal body check in the modern game and what’s not, and incorporate that into their psyche for a game.
“When you’re trying to make a decision in a split second on a play, you don’t have a whole lot of time to think over it, because a second later, they have another decision to make,” Weaver said. “From an officiating standpoint, that’s the biggest thing. Of course, everybody needs to change: the coaches, the players and the fans, the parents, everybody needs to adjust.”
A few other notable changes include whistling icing on penalty kills for all youth and girls levels. Also, tag-up offside has been eliminated at all youth and girls levels of play, replaced now with immediate offside.
There have been significant changes when it comes to penalties. Any player that receives four penalties in the same game will be assessed a game misconduct. If a team is whistled for 12 penalties in a game, the coach will receive a one-game suspension.
Penalty times have been adjusted relative to period length. For youth levels that play 12-minute or less periods, minor penalties will be assessed for one minute. Periods that range from 12 to 17 minutes will have 1:30 penalty times. Levels playing 17-minute periods and above will stay at two minute penalties.
“I have to readjust my [mental] clock a little bit,” Weaver said. “Another thing is the penalty times, too, with the games you’re doing for 12U and 10U. You kind of have an internal clock as to when two minutes is up. Now, it’s a little less. And same thing when you have your criteria in your mind that when you’re viewing a play, maybe you see something before the contact and you’re kind of going through your mind a couple things, this has more potential as a penalty than maybe it was previously.”
Early in the season, one rule that is taking some adjustment is faceoff locations after a penalty.
The rule states: “Calls for an end zone faceoff in defending zone of penalized team except for when the stoppage of play is caused by the non-offending team.”
“Previously, if there was a penalty, it was always the last play faceoff location,” Ellison said. “Now, the offending team, the faceoff goes down to their defending zone. If I’m up and I’m on the attack in my attacking zone and I take a penalty, it goes back down to my defending zone. There are a few exceptions and those are the ones that can be challenging.”
Ellison, whose district consists of California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Hawaii, has tried to keep his state RICs informed about the new rule changes.
He organizes Zoom calls to communicate with his RICs all at the same time. Ellison has also implemented discussing rules during seminars at the local level.
“When the game reports come in, I can review those and I can tell based on the reports who really got the message across and who didn’t,” Ellison said. “The ones that seem to be challenged, I’ll follow-up with those area supervisors to make sure that they’re reinforcing the information.”
In his eighth season as the Mid-American District RIC, Weaver has built connections with his state RICs in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. He is always trying to keep his RICs apprised of what’s going on.
Weaver’s primary means of communicating to his RICs is via email, sending them videos and documents to get them ready for the season with the new changes. He also feels it’s important to see his RICs in person.
“I’ve made as many seminars as I can in person and virtually to explain the concepts and things to the officials, so they understand the purpose and spirit and intent behind the rules, not just what the rule is,” Weaver said. “I try to do the same thing with like certain leagues and coaches associations I’ve spoken to; I try and give them that kind of a background. I think if you understand where something’s coming from, you can apply it better and understand it better. Getting the word out and trying to explain it from maybe a little different angle than someone else might.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.