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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Revisited restrictions on “clutching and grabbing” were supposed to improve the pace of play throughout college hockey this year. But if early-season national trends any indication, precisely the opposite may prove true.
According to the rulebooks, the phrase refers to illegal defensive methods—ones largely neglected by officials in recent history but which have been targeted this year to speed action and showcase talented offenses smothered by rulebreakers.
“It’s a whole different game this year with all the penalties that are being called,” Harvard captain Noah Welch said after Friday’s 2-2 tie against Brown, a contest in which the Crimson was whistled for 13 minors.
Interfering with a player’s attempts to chase down a loose puck or receive a pass in between the blue lines and grabbing opponents with a free hand along the boards are the techniques most frequently listed under this label, and their elimination should benefit smaller, faster teams that emphasize skills over brute strength.
Teams like Harvard.
Compared to some of their opponents, the Crimson’s projected top scorers tend to measure on the small side, with assistant Tom Cavanagh at 6’0, Charlie Johnson and Steve Mandes at 5’11 and Kevin Du at 5’8. That’s not to say they can’t deliver a hit or physical performance, but playmakers cut from their cloth have disproportionately suffered in the neutral zone as a result of those no-calls.
Factor in Harvard’s latest crop of freshmen, who like all rookies have yet to match their upperclass counterparts’ strength training, and the benefits to the Crimson are even more pronounced. Jon Pelle, Paul Dufault and Alex Meintel, 5’8, 5’9 and 5’9, respectively, will have an easier time bringing their raw talent to bear, rather than struggle against ECAC goons who defend with their hands and sticks, not their legs.
Considering the fact that conference foe Cornell comfortably qualifies for that last category, referees’ philosophical change should be a boon in head-to-head action and within the standings as well.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Harvard’s offense will necessarily flourish within the “new” framework. In the first 12:23 of Friday’s game, the Crimson attack flowed quickly and freely from zone to zone and when it didn’t, a Bears penalty was a likely culprit.
But like everyone else, Harvard skaters had adjusted to the game as it was called a year ago and, as its season-opener proved, are just as likely to revert back to the tactics now frowned upon.
“I don’t think we were able to dictate the flow of the game like we were early in the game because of special teams,” Donato said. “We weren’t able to roll our lines and use all our bodies to our advantage. Our depth, I think, is a strength, and unfortunately, we were stuck using our penalty kills most of the night.”
Welch alone was sent to the box three times against the Bears, and only saved from a trip to the sin bin when officials opted for a penalty shot in lieu of two minutes.
It wasn’t just Welch, though, or even the Crimson’s other large skaters. Meintel and Du earned a timeout for themselves as well.
Saturday showed little progression along the learning curve with Harvard penalized 13 times—though many offset U.S. U-18 minors—including two for Johnson and one for Dufault.
“Obviously they’re trying to crack down a lot but some refs are a lot worse—not worse, but a lot more strict than others,” Welch said. “I don’t think there should have been that many penalties called last week, but he did do a good job calling it fairly. Who knows this weekend, depending on the ref.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.
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