Thursday, January 29, 2009

A good example of a bad precedent

Perhaps I shouldn't attempt to paraphrase from memory what UND hockey coach Dave Hakstol said on Wednesday night's Fighting Sioux coaches show, but he made some good points worth examining. He noted that it wasn't up to him to determine what should happen to Denver University coach George Gwozdecky after last Saturday's game. Therefore, he wouldn't address that issue.

However, Hakstol was concerned about what happened during the game and how the officials handled it. He said that Gwozdecky's actions were calculated to fire up his team. Gwozdecky also admitted that he wanted "to get the attention of our officials."

Hakstol understood why Gwozdecky did this, but he believes that the in-game consequences should have been more severe than they were. Hakstol said that at a minimum, DU should have received a delay of game penalty for Gwozdecky's stroll across the ice, which would have resulted in a UND 5-on-3 power play.

Hakstol believes that when a coach resorts to such drastic action, his team should suffer the consequences. He didn't think the penalties assessed matched the level of the offenses committed by Gwozdecky, and I agree.

Of course, this begs the question as to whether UND could have capitalized on the two-man advantage. As bad as the Sioux power play was that game, I have my doubts. But if UND had scored at that point, it would have been a momentum swing in their favor and might have had a demoralizing effect on DU's bench. On the other hand, if DU had killed the penalties, the momentum might well have gone completely in the Pioneers' direction. Perhaps they would have won the game rather than settling for a 2-2 tie.

From my perspective, it's clear that the officiating crew was intimidated by Gwozdecky's actions. After he was tossed from the game, they refused to call the penalty on him that he richly deserved when he failed to comply with the ejection. The officials then proceeded to call five straight penalties on UND and none on DU. It was a shameful performance on many levels. Both coaches are justified in believing that they were shortchanged by the officiating.

During the post-game session with Gwozdecky, it became obvious that going into the series, there were issues between him and referee Todd Anderson related to the Mike Prpich-Geoff Paukovich incident in Denver a few seasons ago. In retrospect, having Anderson work this important series was an unwise decision.

What troubles me most is that Gwozdecky not only received no penalty for going out on to the ice to confront officials during the game, but that he also received no further discipline from Denver University or the WCHA (now known as the Wandering Coach Hockey Association) for this particular action. (He was later suspended a game by DU for communicating with the team during the game following his ejection.) Is this an appropriate message to send?

In hockey, as with all athletic contests, scarcely a game goes by in which a coach either disputes an official's call against his/her team or objects to a penalty or foul not being called. While coaches frequently display anger with officials, there must be limits on how far they go in acting on it. UND wasted no time in setting that standard when Hakstol made an obscene gesture toward officials during a game in Minnesota last season.

If neither DU nor the WCHA nor the NCAA will discipline Gwozdecky for his temper tantrum, his failure to obey a referee's decision, his willful interruption of a game attended by 11,800 paying fans or his display of poor sportsmanship witnessed by thousands of TV viewers across the Upper Midwest, who will?

A disturbing precedent is set when a league doesn't respond effectively to the intimidation of its officials during an athletic event and then refuses to discipline the coach who purposely engaged in the intimidation tactic. Does this mean that any WCHA coach who disagrees with an official's call during a game is now free to go berserk and storm on to the ice to debate the matter? Because that's exactly what happened here – and it worked. So why shouldn’t other WCHA coaches feel free to emulate Gwozdecky’s example?

In the end, it goes back to inconsistent, low-quality officiating in the WCHA and the inability of the organization's leadership to make prudent decisions. Until those issues are addressed, embarrassing episodes such as this will continue to happen and player safety will continue to suffer. Unfortunately, I fear that it will take a catastrophic event for any of this to change. Sadly, Robbie Bina’s broken neck wasn’t enough to transform the manner in which the WCHA operates.

1 comment:

Goon said...

PCM good points next time the Sioux are getting hosed by the officials Hak should make a complete rear end out of himself and throw a tantrum. Maybe it will work?