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At USA Hockey, our main focus is, and always will be, that of the safety and respect for every player, fan, coach and official on and off the ice.
We have recently been highlighting that importance and focus through our Declaration of Safety, Fair Play and Respect. While the newly implemented Declaration aims to create a better hockey culture with concentration on unacceptable body checks (late hits, hits to the head and hits from behind), we want to remind officials of our longtime established Standard of Play and Rules Emphasis on Restraining Fouls.
“With a huge focus on the physical aspect of the game, which the officials have done a good job of enforcing, we have seen the subtle stick-work and restraining actions creep back into the game,” said Matt Leaf, director of officiating education program at USA Hockey. “The use of the stick or the free arm has always been the way lesser skilled players have tried to compete with the more skilled players.”
“We’re trying to change the whole culture of the game to make it better for the players, and safer, and make it a more entertaining game,” explained Jim Weaver, the Mid-American District Referee-in-Chief of USA Hockey. “Player skill level is very high coming out of the (American Development Model) program, and we’re seeing much better skill level from younger players. We want them to continue to develop as they get into the higher age groups. The Standard of Play and Rule Emphasis on Restraining Fouls helps create that environment, where a player’s skill is exhibited rather than try and restrain that in any fashion.”
As a refresher, the Standard of Play puts an end to hooking, tripping, holding, interference, and slashing. The goal of the rule is to reduce those infractions with penalties, while not hindering or removing legal body contact and checking plays, in order to allow for more puck possession, and a greater emphasis on skating. Also, as Weaver points out, this will allow for a player’s skill to further shine.
“It is very frustrating for a player to have used their skill to gain an advantage, only to have that advantage disappear with a hook or slash to the hand(s) that prevents the player from making the pass or get a good shot off,” adds Leaf. “That frustration then escalates and may lead to illegal physical play that includes the dangerous actions we are also aiming to remove from the game.”
The principles of enforcing the standard include the following:
- The use of the stick is limited to only playing the puck.
- The stick is not allowed in any way to impede a player’s progress.
- The use of a free hand/arm is not allowed to grab or impede a player’s progress.
- Players who use their physical skills and/or anticipation and have a positional advantage shall not lose that advantage as a result of illegal acts by the opponent.
- Players will be held accountable for acts of an intimidating or dangerous nature.
“You see these penalties generally happen when a player is overmatched in skill level, and they’re tired or lazy,” said Weaver. “A player takes the hand off their stick and with a free hand grabs a hold of somebody to slow them down, or uses their stick to interfere with the player and not the puck. Ultimately, it not only interferes with the game in an illegal fashion, but can be dangerous, too.
“Safety is the biggest thing.”
This responsibility of penalty enforcement lies on us as officials. However, being taught the game correctly and playing the game correctly is the responsibility of the coaches, parents, and players, too.
Coaches are expected to teach proper skills, including legal and fair body checking and body contact, and should hold their players accountable for all illegal and dangerous actions, regardless as to whether they are properly penalized or not.
Parents show their support by supporting the officials on the ice, and by supporting the coaches in teaching the proper game rules and ethics.
Players, naturally, are deemed most responsible with playing the game the correct way.
By working as a team alongside administrators and all USA Hockey members, we can hold ourselves and the game to a higher standard of play. Afterall, it’s most important that the game we love and compete for shines in the best of light.
“We’re all amateur players,” said Weaver. “Even the players that move on to higher levels need the chance to develop their skills. It makes a much more entertaining game. Hockey is a fast-paced game and we don’t want to allow anything to slow that down.”