Postgame: Why Are Referees Still Allowed To Hand Out Suspensions? Get Rid Of The Game Disqualification

Minnesota Duluth opened the 2017 Ledyard Bank Classic at Dartmouth College with a 5-0 thumping of Yale in the first of two games Friday and will now take on the host Green Wave (3-1 winners over New Hampshire) at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Thompson Arena.

Sophomore goaltender Hunter Shepard made 29 saves for the shutout. Senior wing Blake Young scored twice. Captains Karson Kuhlman and Parker Mackay each had a goal and an assist. Senior center Jared Thomas scored seconds after a UMD major penalty expired.

So much went right for UMD tonight when it couldn’t have. The team has five players taking part in the World Junior Championship, leaving the team with just 18 skaters this weekend, including five defensemen.

Unfortunately now, UMD is down to 17 skaters thanks to that major penalty, and that has left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth after what should have been a night of celebration.

Below are my thumbs up and thumbs down from the UMD win, plus my three stars.

Thumbs down to game disqualifications in the NCAA

Yeah, we’re starting with the thumbs down, because I believe this is an important issue the NCAA rules committee needs to address going into the 2018-19/2019-20 rules cycle.

It’s time for Rule 23 of the NCAA rule book (Disqualification Penalties) to be torched, along with all 92 references to disqualification in the rule book. Game DQs being handed out by on-ice officials is an outdated practice meant for an era when video review wasn’t readily available during or after the game, when all we had was the snap judgement that had to be made in the moment by the people who were present.

Suspensions should not be handed out by referees. They should be decided by conference commissioners or a league’s disciplinary committee. It’s something that can be done immediately after games thanks to the advances of modern technology. It already happens. Plays are reviewed on Friday nights and suspensions are handed out the next morning.

I’m OK with game misconduct penalties, which result in a player being ejected for the remaining duration of a game that day or night. A referee needs the power to do that.

But why are we allowing someone to then automatically suspend a player for one or more games (the rule is progressive, first game DQ is a one-game suspension, next is two games, etc.) based on just one live look at a play?

Hockey is a fast, fast game. No one can watch a play just once at live speed and say, “Yup, that play should result in a suspension.” We’ve admitted the game is too fast because we use video to review goals on a regular basis. We use it to see if someone was a centimeter offside.

What we don’t use it for in the regular season is major penalties (with the exception being to “correctly identify individuals who participated in a fight or committed an infraction.”). For some odd reason, we don’t give a hoot here about accuracy or getting it right. Why don’t we want to be absolutely sure that a player deserves to be kicked out or not? What’s wrong with taking a second or third look only an hour to two later at whether someone should be suspended a game or not?

Did you know that most game DQs are discretionary, meaning these suspensions being handed out are just judgement calls being made on a whim? The only infractions that warrant an automatic game DQ are punching, kicking, excessive roughing, leaving the bench and abuse of an official.

Everything else, from checking from behind to contact to the head to fighting is discretionary, meaning in most cases a referee uses his judgement based on what he saw in the moment to give out a minor or major, a game misconduct or game DQ. And all of those degrees of punishment can be reviewed later by league officials for further discipline — even plays that aren’t called penalties — with one exception.

There is nothing that can be done according to NCAA rules when the most severe punishment — a game DQ — is handed out. There is no reversing a game DQ.

So when an official gets a game DQ wrong, like tonight when Bulldogs senior defenseman Nick McCormack was given a game DQ for a contact to the head major that replays later showed was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit, the best UMD can hope for is a letter of apology.

I don’t understand what’s wrong with letting an official look at the replay monitor during a game to determine a game misconduct. And why did McCormack’s fate for the next game need to be decided that instant as well? Why can’t we give it a few hours and have someone in the league office review the hit to determine whether there should be a suspension or not.

The Bulldogs now head into Saturday’s game against Dartmouth with just four defensemen because one is suspended and the other three are at the World Junior Championship. Should UMD lose, maybe it can petition to have letters of apology built into the PairWise before the season ends.

Thumbs up to the Bulldogs special teams

Even with just four defensemen, I have a good feeling that UMD can take down Dartmouth on Saturday because of how well its special teams performed Friday against Yale.

UMD scored on three-straight power plays to go ahead 3-0 after two periods. Mackay batted a puck out of mid-air to score a power play goal with 2.3 seconds left in the first period. It only took Kuhlman 14 seconds into the next power play to score and Young made it 3-0 by crashing the net and putting away a rebound midway through the second.

In the third period, it was the penalty kill’s turn to shine. UMD’s PK made the worst power play in the country look like the worst power play in the country during McCormack’s major penalty, holding Yale to just three shots on goal via some key blocks and frequent clears to change PKers early and often.

And Yale had a full two-minute, two-man advantage during that McCormack major too. Even the worst power play in the country should be able to score with all those odds in its favor. It didn’t.

Matt’s Three Stars of the Game

3. UMD sophomore goalie Hunter Shepard: The Bulldogs were a bit rusty out of the gate, but Shepard looked like he was back in mid-season form stopping everything thrown his way by an upset-minded Yale squad. Shepard made 29 saves for his third shutout of the season.

2. UMD senior wing Blake Young: Two goals tonight for Young, who has lately been one of the Bulldogs’ best at getting to the net and finishing off goals. He continues to be in position to score.

1. UMD junior wing Parker Mackay and senior wing Karson Kuhlman: The captains share the first star not just for getting a goal and an assist each, but for their efforts on the penalty kill. Both were warriors out there, especially during the major penalty.