Thursday, December 2, 2010

About that goal...

Almost nobody (excluding Fighting Sioux fans) seemed too upset about the goal Notre Dame scored with just over three minutes left in Saturday's game against North Dakota that resulted in the a 2-2 tie. It's usually not difficult to tell when Sioux coach Dave Hakstol is unhappy with a call that went against his team. But in his post-game comments, he seemed more than willing to accept the ruling that enabled the Fighting Irish to escape Ralph Engelstad Arena with a tie.

And Sioux goalie Aaron Dell? He's not exactly a wordy or an emotional kind of guy. He didn't say that he felt as though the Notre Dame player in the crease had interfered with him, although it certainly looked as if that was the case at the time the Fighting Irish scored.

So I didn't think there was any reason to make an issue of the game-tying goal until I watched this replay and reviewed the NCAA ice hockey rule book. I had assumed the goal was allowed because the puck was in the crease at the time Notre Dame's Bryan Rust (No. 21) appeared to slide into the crease totally on his own. But as this frame from the video shows, Rust was well into the crease and the puck was well out of it before Notre Dame's Sam Calabrese swept the puck on goal.

It's quite obvious in the video that Rust physically interfered with Dell's ability to make a save. So given that Rust went into the crease after the puck came out and Rust clearly interfered with Dell, how could the referee award the goal to Notre Dame? I submitted that question to the WCHA. Head official Greg Shepherd was kind enough to provide this response:
The only view that the officials have for replay is the overhead view, and talking to the on-ice officials live they thought the North Dakota player caused the Notre Dame player to go into the goalie by the use of his stick, and from the overhead view there was nothing to overturn that. If we had other angles it could have been different.
Unfortunately, Shepherd raises more questions than he answers. The North Dakota player in question would have been Matt Frattin (No. 21) who was closest to Rust. In the video, Frattin ties up Rust's stick with his stick and lifts it to keep Rust from putting in the rebound off Dell's save. Frattin appears to do nothing that would have caused Rust to fall. In sliding into the crease, Rust makes contact with Dell and comes between the goalie and the puck.

Had Calabrese swept the puck straight into the net, the referees might have been able to make the case that Dell was in no position to make a save. Thus, Rust's contact would have made no difference. But the puck appears to hit the post and then travel at an angle away from the goal line. It deflects in off either Dell or Rust. Dell had virtually no chance of making a save with Rust in contact with him and lying between him and the puck.

The most important question is this: If the officials saw Frattin use his stick in a manner that caused Rust to fall, why didn't they call a penalty? Certainly Frattin would have been guilty of interference on a Notre Dame scoring opportunity. A penalty would have been warranted. But because no penalty was called, it severely weakens the case that Rust went into the crease because of Frattin's stick work.

Besides that, the video from various angles in no way supports the on-ice officials' claim that Frattin's stick caused Rust to lose his balance, slide into the crease and make contact with the goalie. While I can sympathize with the fact that the referees don't have access to anything but the overhead view in making their call, the fact remains that their decision was based not only on something that didn't happen, but also on something that the one video replay they viewed didn't support.

Shepherd leaves open the possibility that had the referees been able to see the replays of the goal from different angles, they might have made a different decision. That's nice, but what does the WCHA do about an officiating crew which allowed a goal that shouldn't have counted, a goal that might have important implications at playoff time in March? What do you do with an officiating crew that claims to have seen a penalty on a scoring opportunity, but didn't call it and then uses the non-call as its rationale for allowing the goal?

It makes no sense.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hockey needs to figure this out

What is and what isn't a legal hit? Is it permissible to blast a player in a vulnerable position -- such as having his head down -- or isn't it? For many years, the thinking in hockey has been that if a player puts himself in a vulnerable position, he gets whatever he deserves. But it should be evident by now that allowing such hits can cause serious injuries.

So does hockey want to eliminate these types of hits or not? The check UND's Brad Malone delivered to Denver's Jesse Martin during Saturday's game that sent Martin to the hospital is a perfect example of hockey's indecisiveness on the issue. (The latest reports say Martin was seriously injured on the play.)

Was Malone guilty of charging? Perhaps, but that's unclear from the video. I'd like to think that if what Malone did was a flagrant charge worthy of a five-minute major penalty and ejection from the game, it would have been obvious not only to the officials on the ice, but also to almost everyone watching the game, but that was not the case.

None of the four officials on the ice put an arm up to signal a penalty. UND continued to play for five seconds with possession of the puck. Matt Frattin had a good scoring opportunity during that time. If he had scored, would it have counted? Or would the officials have retroactively wiped out the goal when they retroactively got around to assessing the penalty they didn't originally call?

A score by UND at that point could have had a significant impact on the game's outcome. It demonstrates why it's necessary to have an established policy and concrete rules in place rather than making something up on the spot depending upon the seriousness of the injury to the player.

Either you say that some hard hits are part of the game and allow them or hockey's regulatory authorities should take substantive action to make it clear to players, coaches and officials that they will no longer be tolerated because they're simply too dangerous. It's too important an issue to make it up as you go, and hockey has put off dealing with it far too long.

Football, for the most part, seems to have figured this out. Players are no longer permitted to deliver dangerous hits just because an opponent is in a vulnerable position. As a result, sometimes players are flagged for hits that were completely accidental, unintentional or because an opposing player did something they couldn't have anticipated.

This leads to players occasionally being unfairly penalized for a situation that was completely out of their control. That's the down side of attempting to eliminate dangerous hits from contact sports. However, it is the best way to insure that player safety is the top priority.

Football hasn't suffered from attempts to take dangerous hits out of the game, and it's doubtful that hockey would, either. Hockey should follow football's lead.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sioux in good hands with Eidsness

Worth noting at season's end is that Fighting Sioux sophomore goalie Brad Eidsness in on track to be one of North Dakota's all-time best goalies, especially if he plays four years. He's already made a name for himself in the UND record books.

For the second straight season, Eidsness tied his fourth-place record for most wins in a season by a UND goalie (24). His goals against average this season was 2.11, which ranks him fifth in UND's record book, with only Karl Goehring, Phil Lamoureux, Jordan Parise and Bob Peters above him.

Eidsness' .914 save percentage ties him with Lamoureux for the ninth best season ever by a Sioux goalie. His three shutouts this season tie him for seventh with Lamoureux, Ed Belfour, Goehring and Lefty Curran. His 41 games played this season is second only to Lamoureux's 42 in 07-08.

In career stats, after two years, Eidsness is already tied for seventh with 82 games games played. He's in sixth place with 48 career wins. He needs only five more wins to pass Jon Casey and Toby Kvalevog, eight more to pass Parise and 13 more to pass Lamoureux in second place. If he stays four years, he could potentially pass Goehring for all-time number of wins (80).

Eidsness' current career winning percentage of .667 ranks ninth and his 2.34 career goals against average ranks third behind Lamoureux and Parise. More impressively, his .910 career save percentage ranks fourth in the Sioux record book, tied with Casey and behind Goehring (.918), Lamoureux (.920) and Parise (.921)

What more could you expect from a sophomore goalie? Yes, Eidsness has given up some soft and untimely goals, but what goalie hasn't? Besides being very durable his first two seasons, he's also improved significantly. His save percentage went from .906 his rookie season to .914 this year and his goals against average from 2.56 to 2.11. It will be interesting to see if he can be even better in 2010-2011.

My greatest concern about UND's goaltending for next season is that Aaron Dell needs to develop into a reliable backup who can spell Eidsness on occasion and substitute for him should it become necessary.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's a team game after all

As another Fighting Sioux hockey season comes to an unsatisfying end, I'll state the obvious: size, speed, skill, talent and past victories will only take a team so far. The team that consistently plays inspired hockey and plays together stands the best chance of winning a national championship. Until Yale ended UND's season with a 3-2 win yesterday, I had no reason to believe that the Sioux weren't such a team.

Little RIT brought down the regular season champions from the nation's two most powerful conferences, the WCHA and Hockey East. And if Wisconsin doesn't bring its best game against the Tigers in the Frozen Four, all the Badgers' NHL draft picks and Hobey Baker finalists won't save them from the same fate.

For the rest of the season, I'm a Wisconsin fan if for no other reason than to prove ESPN commentator Bob Norton wrong about the WCHA. Last night, he couldn't resist taking a swipe at the league when reporting on Yale's win over UND. I like Norton because he actually knows something about college hockey, but his perpetual eastern bias is annoying, and it doesn't help when he goes out of his way to put in on display.

So, on Wisconsin!

Right and Wrong
There's no sugarcoating a season-ending loss, but it's worth noting that the Sioux did some of what they needed to do against Yale. It's what UND didn't do that ultimately cost it the game.

UND didn't get the quick start it needed. Yale had played just three games in the past three weeks. Bulldogs coach Keith Allain took a gamble when he went with a goalie Ryan Rondeau who had played only three games all season. That made a strong Sioux start imperative, but UND came out flat, which gave the Bulldogs time to shake off the rust and Rondeau time to gain confidence.

Yale got the first goal of the game when the Sioux flubbed the opportunity to clear the puck from their zone. Denny Kearney made a beautiful deflection off Thomas Dignard's point shot, and suddenly the underdogs had momentum. The Sioux cause wasn't helped when Jason Gregoire made an uncharacteristically bad decision that cost UND a chance for a two-man advantage.

So why the slow start? Did seeing Rondeau in net give the Sioux a false sense of confidence? Did it have something to do with playing a sparsely attended game without the usual number of supportive Sioux fans? Was it too many injuries? Or did physical or mental fatigue finally catch up with the team? Whatever the case, UND coach Dave Hakstol said after the game that he didn't see the letdown coming, nor could he explain why it happened. He didn't, however, think it had anything to do with fatigue.

Going into this game, I believed that if the Sioux could get Yale out of its game, they would stand a good chance of success. In some respects, UND achieved that goal. Yale came into the contest averaging 40 shots on goal per game. The Sioux held them to 23.

Rensselaer was the only other team to hold Yale to fewer shots on goal. That happened Jan. 30 in a game Renssalaer won 4-0 while outshooting the Bulldogs 26-22. Defensively, UND deserves credit for limiting Yale's high-powered offense to so few opportuntiies. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs took advantage of the few they got.

I also believed that UND needed to stay out of the penalty box to avoid giving Yale's power play – second in the nation – a chance to be a factor. The Sioux did that, too, limiting the Bulldogs only three power plays and killing them all.

The Bulldogs' defensive strategy appeared to be that any time the Sioux had a "Grade A" scoring chance, they would take a penalty rather than risk giving up the goal. It worked because UND didn't capitalize on any of its four power plays and Darcy Zajac just missed on his penalty shot. UND's power play has run hot and cold for much of the season. In a one-and-done playoff game, it was a poor time for UND's power play to go cold.

I noted in this blog back on March 12 that 7 of UND's 11 losses to that point had come when the Sioux were outscored in the second period. Now it's 8 of 12 as the Bulldogs outscored the Sioux 2-0 in the second period, thus becoming the only team to accomplish that feat since St. Cloud State did it on Feb. 12 and won 4-3. This was also the only period in which Yale outshot UND (10-6). Until Saturday, the Sioux had put their second-period lapses behind them.

Missing Pieces
Freshman Joe Gleason is the type of defenseman who's well-suited to play a team like Yale. But an injury suffered during the playoff series with Minnesota kept him out of the game. And although Jake Marto played exceptionally well, Hakstol admitted that the junior defenseman has been injured, not practicing for the past month and operating with limited ability. The Grand Forks Herald's Brad Schlossman reported in his blog that defenseman Ben Blood was playing hurt, too.

Under the circumstances, UND did a remarkable job defensively by limiting Yale to 23 shots on goal and keeping the Bulldogs' power play off the board. And while there's no point in crying over spilled milk, it's difficult not to think about how much of a difference Chay Genoway could have made in this game, both as a player and an on-ice leader.

UND's downfall throughout the season wasn't defense, it was scoring. That turned out to be the case against Yale when the Sioux didn't begin to generate quality scoring chances until the third period, capitalizing twice. As forward Matt Frattin noted after the game, by then it was "too little, too late."

Defensively, the Sioux were two bounces away from doing all they needed to do to win the game. They cut Yale's average number of shots on goal nearly in half; they held the nation's top-scoring offense to a goal less than it averaged; and they shut out one of the most potent power plays in the country. If the Sioux underachieved in any area, it was on offense.

Was it Coaching?
In each of the nine seasons I've covered Fighting Sioux hockey for U.S. College Hockey Online, I always learn something new from Hakstol and other coaches with whom I'm fortunate to interact.

When unranked Ohio State defeated Bemidji State in overtime at the Subway Holiday Classic at Engelstad Arena, I asked Beavers coach Tom Serratore if his team had a hard time getting up for the game against the Buckeyes after defeating No. 1 Miami the previous day.

The ever-glib Serratore replied, "I'm a coach. I think our team should be up for every game."

That's an important lesson because no matter how much coaches and fans want to believe that their team is completely fired up and totally motivated to play any team it faces, human nature and plain-old bad luck are always waiting in the wings to throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans.

It's easy to think that UND should win a national championship every year -- until you stop to consider all the factors that conspire against it. As Gen. Tommy Franks says, "...the enemy gets a vote." In other words, no matter what you plan for your team, the opposition will do all it can to make the plan go awry.

One of Hakstol's favorite expressions is: "Control what's yours to contol." Throughout six seasons of covering Sioux hockey under Hakstol's guidance, I have no reason to believe that he doesn't do his best to control what he can. In the course of a season, he must make hundreds of judgement calls with the potential to produce negative results. He deserves credit for getting the vast majority of them right.

Compared to even the elite teams in college hockey, UND under Hakstol has been a model of consistency, going to the Frozen Four four times, making the NCAA tournament six years, winning the WCHA tournament twice and claiming a league championship. That's to say nothing of the reputation UND has garnered for producing pro-caliber players.

Even some of the UND's harshest critics express grudging respect for what Hakstol and his coaching staff accomplish season after season. How many times has he been asked: "How do you do it?" To say that most college hockey programs are envious of UND's record of success is an understatment.

I'm as disappointed as anyone that another hockey season has come to an end without the Fighting Sioux adding a national championship banner to the rafters of Ralph Engelstad Arena. But I can't wait until next season when I walk into the arena, remind myself that, yes, I am in Grand Forks, ND, and feel confident that no matter happens, Hakstol, Cary Eades and Dane Jackson will have the team primed and positioned to make a run at No. 8.

There's really nothing else that anyone can reasonably expect.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sioux shouldn't take Yale lightly

The Yale Bulldogs concern me because they're a small, fast team that scores a lot of goals. They're the top offensive team in a nation, averaging slightly more than 4 goals per game. Yale has the second highest rated power play in the nation (23.5 percent). They remind me of the skilled, offense-minded Hockey East teams that have given the Sioux trouble in recent years.

Nobody can say that Yale hasn't beat anybody. The Bulldogs beat Cornell twice, a team that split with UND. Having noted this, I'll also say that the Fighting Sioux are a better team than the one that split with Cornell. Barry Melrose aside, UND's record against Cornell in January isn't the most reliable measuring stick at this point of the season.

On the plus side, I can see the Sioux matching up very well with Yale. UND's size could give the Bulldogs problems, especially in front of their net. If Yale is forced to take penalties, they could be in trouble. The Bulldogs' penalty kill is ranked 29th nationally. It hasn't had to be great because Yale takes very few penalties (38th nationally). UND will have to stay out of the box to keep Yale's potent power play off the ice.

One surprising aspect about Yale is the fact that they don't seem to have a top goalie. They've played four different goalies throughout the season. Their top netminder, freshman Nick Maricic, is 46th nationally in GAA (2.95) and 73rd in save percentage (.888). That explains why the Bulldogs are ranked 32nd in the nation on defense, giving up 2.94 goals per game.

It seems a bit unfair that UND, the top-rated No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, should have to play the top-rated No. 3 seed. However, Yale has lost three of its last four games, two of them to Brown, which finished 11th in the ECAC. The Bulldogs haven't been the same since losing senior forward Sean Backman, the team's third leading scorer.

Yale's had a week off since being ousted from the ECAC tournament by Brown. By the time the puck drops against UND, the Bulldogs will have played only three games (losing two) in 21 days. That might work in their favor when facing the Sioux, who are coming off six games in nine days. Or it could work to UND's favor because the Sioux are accustomed to winning playoff hockey games against good teams on neutral ice.

UND can't afford to take Yale lightly or look ahead to Boston College. Coach Dave Hakstol knows that and will be hammering the message home to the team throughout the week. The Sioux must also keep in mind that they won't be dealing with WCHA officiating, and that the games might be called much more tightly. They will have to be more disciplined than they were against St. Cloud State on Saturday.

Although the Sioux shouldn't look past Yale, I can. If UND gets past the Bulldogs, it will be an excellent tune-up game before taking on Boston College -- assuming the Eagles don't look past Alaska.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Don Lucia is right

After North Dakota's 4-1 victory over Minnesota to win the series, Gophers coach Don Lucia was visibly upset about Matt Frattin's hit that knocked defenseman Kevin Wehrs out of the game.

The moment I saw the hit, I knew the result would be bad and that Frattin would get a 5-minute major for it. He deserved it. He came a long way to make the hit, and both his skates left the ice when he delivered it. It was a classic case of charging. If the WCHA suspends Frattin, it will be because he deserves it.

In his post-game comments, Lucia said: "That’s a vicious hit. Say what you want, it’s not the kind of hits we want to see in the game. My own personal feeling is that it was more than a five. Obviously, Wehrs is not in great shape right now. They’ve got a defenseman (Chay Genoway) that hasn’t played all year because of a hit, and those are things that I don’t think need to be part of the game."

I'm in complete agreement with Lucia. I, too, thought Frattin should have been tossed out of the game and was surprised he wasn't.

I suspect that the league will suspend Frattin for at least one game, and that's too bad because he has proven himself a valuable part of the team at a critical point in the season. If Fighting Sioux fans are honest with themselves, they'll admit that it's the right course of action.

UND is the last team that should be delivering dangerous hits to the head because of what happened to Genoway. And because of what happened to Robbie Bina five years ago, it should be the last team taking checking from behind penalties. There's no defending those types of hits.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

So much for that theory

For just the second time this season, North Dakota lost when it outscored its opponent in the second period.

Going into Saturday's game against Minnesota, the Fighting Sioux were 19-1-4 when they held the second period scoring advantage. Corban Knight's goal Saturday, which made it a 1-1 game, meant that UND outscored Minnesota 1-0 in the second. When Matt Frattin made in 2-1 in the third period, I thought the Sioux were on their way to ending Minnesota's season, but it was not to be.

Give Minnesota credit: When they fell behind in a hostile environment, they didn't crumble as they did Friday. They pushed back hard and gutted out a 4-2 win. The Gophers looked nothing like the team that gave up in the first period Friday. They seem to respond well to hostility and abuse from fans, media and former players.

I mentioned in my blog Friday that UND was a different team from the one that played at Minnesota in January because it was without Knight and Frattin was not yet a factor. Those two players have certainly come through for the Sioux in the first two games of this series.

The big mystery is: What's happened to Brett Hextall and UND's power play? The Sioux are 1-19 with the man advantage in their last four games. The power play outage Friday didn't matter, but it did matter in Saturday's game. The power play must get back on track if UND hopes to win Sunday and go far in the playoffs.

Finally, WCHA officials have shown that when given the opportunity to play a role in influencing the outcome of a game, they will. UND's victory Friday was so decisive that there wasn't anything they could do to keep the game close, but Saturday's game was a different story. In the first two games of the series, Minnesota has a nearly two-to-one advantage in power plays.

If the Sioux are to win Sunday's third game against Minnesota, they'll need to do it in a decisive manner that doesn't give the WCHA's finest an opportunity to influence the final result.

It's not so much what the officials do call as what they don't. In Saturday's game, I witnessed two very obvious penalties on Mario Lamoureux that went uncalled at times when all eyes should have been on him. And while Brad Eidsness did trip Jacob Cepis in the first period of Saturday's game, Cepis should also have received a penalty for embellishment because that's what he did.

In the WCHA, players who are known divers and continually exhibit such behavior are frequently rewarded for it. At one time, the NCAA said that cutting down on diving was a point of emphasis, which led to the embellishment rule. But as with many NCAA points of emphasis, it got heeded for a short time by the WCHA and then ignored.

As Brandon Bochenski once remarked about players who dive, "It's unmanly."

Besides that, it's dishonest and unsportsmanlike. The WHCA needs to put divers down.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gophers or Sioux? Just a second...

Many look at Minnesota's and North Dakota's 1-1-2 records against each other and declare the series a toss-up. They could be right, but certainly on paper, UND is a better team statistically. Its won-loss record, its finish in the WCHA and its Pairwise ranking all point to that conclusion.

However, I would argue that the team the Gophers will be playing at the Ralph this weekend has much more in common with the Sioux team they played in Grand Forks in November than it does with the Sioux team they played at the Mariucci in January.

One positive in the Gophers’ favor is that this time in Grand Forks, they’ll have forward Jacob Cepis, a player who’s provided the team with a significant offensive spark. In contrast, UND is without captain and top defenseman Chay Genoway, who the Sioux had when they went 1-0-1 against the Gophers at Engelstad Arena.

So…advantage Gophers, right? Not necessarily.

Much has changed for the Sioux since they last played Minnesota. When UND went to Minneapolis in January, Brett Hextall and Corban Knight were out with injuries. While it’s arguable that Knight would have been a difference-maker in that series, the Sioux have been a much improved team since Hextall’s return. And it’s not just because he helps make the power better and provides added scoring punch. Coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged that Hextall’s leadership on the bench and in the locker room was missed. UND was 3-4-1 without him and has gone 7-1-0 since his return.

Knight had just begun to play up to his potential when he went down with an injury the weekend before the Gopher series. While his offensive stats aren’t gaudy, the number of minutes he’s played in key situations have increased, which shows that Hakstol relies on the freshman forward to play a steady, consistent game. Knight deserves some credit for his role in UND’s turnaround, and he makes the Sioux a better team in the upcoming playoff series.

In addition, when UND played at Minnesota in January, Matt Frattin had only been back for four games since his half-season suspension. It would be another five games before he scored his first goal of the season. Since then, he’s scored five goals in seven games and is playing well on a line with fellow juniors Evan Trupp and Brad Malone. His overtime goal at Colorado College assured UND of home ice in the playoffs and might prove one of the most important plays of UND’s season.

One of the most significant changes for UND has gone unnoticed. In seven of UND’s 11 losses and in its tie at Minnesota, the Sioux were outscored in the second period by a 19-3 margin. During the team’s current seven-game winning streak, the Sioux have outscored opponents 14-4. That stat is somewhat skewed by a six-goal second period at St. Cloud, but it’s worth noting that UND’s performance in the second game against SCSU marked the beginning of the team’s second-half surge.

For whatever reason, the second-period letdowns that were a trend for UND earlier in the season (and which contributed to the Gopher win and tie at Mariucci in January) have all but disappeared. The one game in which the Sioux were outscored in the second period (1-0 at Colorado College), they won. Even throwing out the six-goal second period against SCSU, UND is outscoring its opponents 2:1 in the second rather than being outscored by better than 3:1.

When the Sioux outscored their opponent in the second period, they were 12-1-4. When second period scoring was even, UND went 6-3-0. In other words, the Sioux are 18-4-4 when outscoring or holding their opponents even in the second period. If the Sioux can continue the trend of strong play in the second period, I like their chances in this series.

Friday, February 26, 2010

WCHA head games vs USCHO mind games

In her US College Online column on the WCHA this week, Theresa Spisak addresses the issue of the WCHA's inconsistency in calling penalties for hits to the head. I'm in full agreement with her about the ridiculousness of the league's handling of contact to the head penalties and its seeming unwillingness to discipline players when they engage in dangerous on-ice conduct.

That being said, it's unfair to compare the hit by UND's Corban Knight on UMD's Mike Connolly to the hits made by Aaron Marvin on Chay Genoway and Blake Geoffrion. We still don't know if Genoway will return this season. And who knows how long Geoffrion might be out? Knight's hit wasn't even close to the hit on Minnesota's Nick Leddy. He was out for weeks with a broken jaw, which the WCHA apparently doesn't consider part of the head.

Connolly practiced this week and will play this weekend for the Bulldogs. While it's unfortunate that he was injured as a result of Knight's hit, it is not at all clear that his injury was caused by an elbow or any other deliberate blow to the head. Saying something happened does not make it so. The video doesn't conclusively prove anything regarding the claim that Knight's elbow was the cause of Connolly's injury.

In no way do I condone hits to the head. I'm in total agreement with the NCAA's zero tolerance policy against them. If the video proved that Knight went after Connolly's head, I'd be among those calling for the WCHA to suspend him.

However, I believe that if Knight was guilty of anything when he hit Connolly, it was boarding. To me, it appears that Knight got lower than Connolly and brought up his right shoulder, which drove the UMD player backwards. The left side of Connolly's helmet violently impacted the glass. An elbow wasn't needed to cause the injury, which turned out to be nowhere near as serious as Genoway's, Geoffrion's or Leddy's.

I can see this now because I have the benefit of watching the video in slow motion. But when I was at the game covering it for USCHO, Knight's hit didn't look dirty or illegal. Usually when such hits occur, there are reactions and comments made in the press box, such as, "He got away with one there." I don't recall anybody saying anything about this particular hit during or after the game. As the video shows, the crowd barely reacted to it. I can understand why no penalty was called at the time. It simply didn't look that bad.

Sioux players have been getting called for contact to the head penalties all season long, so I know they're not angels in this regard. One would hope that players and coaches would have a clear understanding of what "zero tolerance" means. If they did, it would greatly reduce incidents of headhunting.

However, when WCHA officials don't consistently call contact to the head in cases where it's clearly warranted and the league office displays great reluctance in giving suspensions to players whose hits result in serious head injuries, it should come as no surprise that such dangerous plays continue to occur.

So, by all means, criticize the WCHA for its lackadaisical attitude toward head injuries and its unwillingness to enforce the NCAA's mandate against the plays that cause them. But there's no need to create new controversies where they don't exist, especially when there are already plenty of glaring examples of WCHA ineptitude on the record.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why now?

Folks, I've provided that history of Bruce McLeod to let some of you know just that: History.

What must be dealt with now is how the WCHA is being run today.

Is the league looking out for player safety?

Are the rules being enforced by the book?

More Revelations

After my last post recapping the past adventures of WCHA Commissioner McLeod I've received more information (this time from the Star-Tribune) about his past exploits. Enjoy.

UMD athletic official was at the center of police probe; In an investigation of suspected witness-tampering and bribery, authorities taped conversations in 1992-93 between Bruce McLeod and a student who told police she was assaulted by a hockey player.(NEWS)

Article from: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
Article date: June 19, 1996
Author: Oakes, Larry
More results for: bruce mcleod duluth investigation
Copyright 1996 Star Tribune

Bruce McLeod, the University of Minnesota-Duluth's athletic director, offered to arrange payment to a UMD student if she would decline to testify against a hockey player who assaulted her, according to a police investigation that included recordings of their conversations.

Transcripts show that during a private meeting in his office, McLeod discussed with Erin Masser, then a UMD sophomore, the disadvantages of pursuing an assault case and offered to act as "middleman" in passing money to her from hockey player Sergei Krivokrasov, who had signed a pro contract worth $900,000. ...

McLeod: " . . . Maybe you should be compensated in some way for your, you know, anguish and your time."
Masser: "Whose money would it be?"
McLeod: "It would be his."
Masser: "Sergei's?"
McLeod: "Yup. . . . I was trying to figure out in my mind if, in fact, that something was done, how you could kind of keep it as private as possible or something like that. I even thought of, you know, acting as a middleman or something like that and just tell him that, you know, write Bruce McLeod the check. . . . "


This is the commissioner of the premier college hockey league in the country? This is how he operates?

Monday, February 22, 2010

We Expected Better?

Many, including me, have expected better from WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod for numerous reasons, primarily related to player safety and officiating.

It seems that expectation is naive given his track record.

But can someone explain to me how the premier college hockey league in the country can have a guy who was investigated for witness tampering (in a sexual assault case no less) and charged with felony theft and swindling as commissioner?

Grand Forks Herald (ND)
June 20, 1996
Edition: FINAL
Section: SPORTS
Page: D03


Author: Associated Press
Dateline: DULUTH

Article Text:
The athletic director at the University of Minnesota-Duluth offered to arrange a payment to a student if she would decline to testify against a hockey player who assaulted her, a newspaper reported.

In a copyright story Wednesday, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis cited a police investigation from 1992 and 1993 that did not result in charges against Bruce McLeod, who is also the commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The player, Sergei Krivokrasov, pleaded guilty to an assault charge in 1993 and now plays for the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.

Transcripts show that during a private meeting in his office, McLeod discussed with Erin Masser, then a sophomore, the disadvantages of pursuing an Krivokrasov, who had signed a pro contract worth $900,000, the newspaper said.

As part of the investigation into suspected witness tampering and bribery by McLeod, Duluth police taped conversations between McLeod and Masser.

The St. Louis County attorney's office never filed charges against McLeod, in part because no money changed hands, according to the attorney who examined the case. However, police Lt. John Hall, who directed the investigation, told certainly see why somebody could think that. But that was certainly never the McLeod's involvement with Krivokrasov puzzled investigators, not only because it potentially violated the law, but also because Krivokrasov was never a Minnesota-Duluth student.

And while the school took no disciplinary action against McLeod, a senior college official ordered a workshop for athletic department personnel about appropriate ways to counsel students.


Grand Forks Herald (ND)
October 19, 1996
Edition: FINAL
Section: SPORTS
Page: C03


Author: Associated Press

Article Text:
Members of the faculty committee overseeing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association say they plan no immediate action against WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod who has admitted stealing money from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The Star Tribune on Thursday surveyed several committee members to ask about any possible plans against McLeod, who has resigned as athletic director at Minnesota-Duluth.

On Wednesday, McLeod entered into a court-approved program for first-time offenders. If McLeod completes the program, es will be dismissed after one year.

Several WCHA committee members in the 10-university association said they want more information about McLeod's case before making a decision on any action against him as commissioner.


Grand Forks Herald (ND)
October 23, 1996
Edition: FINAL
Section: SPORTS
Page: D01


Author: Gregg Wong, Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Article Text:
It's time for Bruce McLeod to step down as commissioner of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Now. Not in January or at the end of the season.

McLeod resigned in August as athletic director at Minnesota-Duluth because of several misdeeds in his administration, the biggest an admission that he stole $18,000 of the school's money for his own use. He later made restitution.

Last week McLeod entered into a pretrial diversion program for first-time offenders. If he completes the program, felony theft and swindling charges against him will be dismissed after one year.

McLeod also was involved in other questionable actions while he was Umd's athletic director, among them offering to arrange payment for a woman student so she would not testify against a Russian hockey player, a non-student, who had assaulted her; secretly giving an assistant coach a bonus; and diverting money from the women's program to men's athletics.

There have been no revelations of any misdeeds in his role as Wcha commissioner, a position he has held since July 1, 1994. Nonetheless, for the good of the league, he must step down now. If the Wcha is to remain the best college hockey league, which it claims, it cannot have a leader with this kind of baggage.

The Wcha's executive committee has ordered an outside audit of the league's books. The committee, led by Pat Merrier, Umd's acting athletic director, has indicated it probably will not act on McLeod's status with the league until January, when the audit is complete and the committee has its regularly scheduled meeting.

"I've been proud of the fact that all the Wcha people are doing justice to someone they all know and like and who has made many contributions to the league," Gophers men's athletic director Mark Dienhart said. "I'm not alarmed that nobody has pulled the trigger. That wouldn't be appropriate at this time. But I know there may be some discomfort between now and January."

Yet, Dienhart added, "We need a commissioner who is functioning at the highest level, who is empowered and who has the confidence of the league behind him or her."
Before McLeod admitted that he took the money, most of the league coaches and administrators voiced their support. Now, since his admission, some of that support is waning. And, according to a source, McLeod's predecessor as commissioner, the retired Otto Breitenbach of Wisconsin, already has been alerted that he might be asked to step in as acting commissioner.

McLeod probably realizes his fate. He has sold two of his three houses, including a lake cabin, and reportedly plans to move to Denver. He was in Denver over the weekend, perhaps seeking a new job and home. He was traveling on Monday and did not return a phone call.

In any case, when McLeod does resign or is fired, the Wcha must try to find an independent commissioner, one not concurrently employed by one of the league schools, so as to avoid any hint of partiality. The new commissioner also must know hockey and be well versed in marketing, media (notably television) and public relations.

With new arenas in Denver and Colorado Springs and the probability of Mankato State and Nebraska-Omaha joining the Wcha in the next few years, the league and its popularity should grow immensely. And the commissioner has to be the point man for that growth.

On another disciplinary matter, Gophers coach Doug Woog merited being reprimanded for passing on tuition money to former Gopher Chris McAlpine.

Woog should have known better. You don't hand over an envelope with cash to a student-athlete, even if his eligibility has expired.

Woog's intentions were admirable -- helping a kid without any money stay in school. But he should have thought it out. The money could have been given to McAlpine without Woog's involvement -- and then there would be no suspension or loss of scholarship.


Grand Forks Herald (ND)
November 29, 1996
Edition: FINAL
Section: SPORTS
Page: D02


Author: Virg Foss, Herald Staff Writer

Article Text:
Former Minnesota-Duluth athletic director Bruce McLeod, who resigned after he was charged misappropriating school athletic funds, sold his house and lake cabin and moved to Denver last weekend, Bulldog hockey coach Mike Sertich said.

The cloud of the investigation into McLeod's activities has hung over the UMD athletic department for eight months, Sertich said. "It's important we have some closure to all of this," Sertich said. McLeod's departure from Duluth may lead to that, he added. McLeod, who still serves as Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner, will run the league office from Denver.

The WCHA still is conducting an audit of its funds under McLeod. If the WCHA takes steps to remove McLeod, that would come at a league meeting in January.

There is talk that McLeod could tell the WCHA in January that he will resign, effective at the end of the season. He's reportedly looking to find a job with a professional sports franchise in Colorado.

If McLeod does resign, there's already speculation that his replacement could be former UND head hockey coach Gino Gasparini.

Gasparini is beginning his third season commissioner of the United States Hockey League, which supplies many of the players for the WCHA.


Gasparini back in WCHA?
With Bruce McLeod's forced resignation as athletic director at Minnesota-Duluth and subsequent move from Duluth to Denver, his days as commissioner of the WCHA may be numbered.

If so, perhaps the leading candidate to replace him would be ex-UND coach Gino Gasparini, in his third season as commissioner of the United States Hockey League.
For the record, Gasparini is taking the stance that's he's perfectly happy doing what he's doing. "I have a wonderful job that I enjoy immensely," Gasparini said Monday. "I'm not in the market of looking for a new job."

But if the WCHA needs a new commissioner and is interested in him, he said he would talk.

Gasparini would be the perfect candidate. He not only has a background in the league as a long-time coach, but he knows the inner workings of the USHL, now the prime feeder league for WCHA schools. Another bonus would be that Gasparini has no ties to a WCHA school as McLeod did in his dual role as AD at Duluth and commissioner of the WCHA. McLeod's two jobs created the potential for a conflict of interest.


Grand Forks Herald (ND)
February 5, 1997
Edition: FINAL
Section: SPORTS
Page: D01

Index Terms:
Author: Associated Press
Dateline: DULUTH, MINN.

Article Text:
A former University of Minnesota-Duluth soccer player says she was forced to quit the sport because scholarships were unavailable to the team but were offered disproportionately to male athletes.

Julie Grandson filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, saying Minnesota-Duluth has violated a federal law by denying female athletes the same opportunities it extends to male athletes.

Grandson says that although women made up 33 percent of the school's athletes in the 1995-96 school year, their teams received only 21 percent of the total athletic budget, 18 percent of athletic scholarships and 18 percent of athletic recruiting money.

The suit demands that soccer be funded equitably and asks damages of more than $75,000.

Wide disparities have persisted despite an annual state subsidy whose intent is to help Minnesota-Duluth attain gender equity in sports. The school has accepted more than $5 million in such funds since 1985, records show.

Last summer, after an internal probe, Chancellor Kathryn Martin acknowledged that the school's spending on women's sports was unfair and promised to fix the problem by 1999.

The investigations also led to the discovery that Athletic Director Bruce McLeod made $18,000 in undocumented withdrawals from a fund-raising account. He resigned, was charged with theft and was accepted into a pretrial diversion program. He still heads the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Grandson suit cites 19 defendants including Martin, McLeod and each member of the university Board of Regents. University officials declined to comment.