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.