As many know, my favorite sport in the world is hockey. I love to watch it, play it and talk about it with anyone who shares my interest.
So it isn’t hard to see why I have come to enjoy covering area hockey games more than any other sport played in this area.
However, throughout the many games I have covered this season, I have come to notice one thing that has me a little worried about the integrity of the game, especially at the varsity level.
That one thing is the overabundance of 5-minute major penalties being dealt out by officiating crews during games.
Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the reasoning behind the heightened severity of checking-from-behind and boarding penalties. I remember the day Jack Jablonski was hit from behind and paralyzed during a hockey game while playing for Benilde-St. Margaret. I will admit that hits like those should be outlawed from the game, and players whose only purpose on the ice is to hurt another player should not be allowed to play the game.
However, I feel like — in some instances — 5-minute majors are being handed out rather quickly and more frequently than called for.
In the games I have covered this year, there have been many games where at least one — if not two or three — 5-minute major penalties have been whistled. A good amount of the major penalties given out were deserved, but there were many more that were very borderline calls that could have just as easily been 2-minute minors or not even been called at all.
In every one of those games, the team that has taken the brunt of the penalty minutes from the calls has gone on to be scored on one or more times on the penalty kill. And more times than not, that one penalty was the difference in the game.
In saying that, I don’t have a problem with a team being punished for the actions of its players, but the punishment should fit the crime.
Last week, I covered a game where there were two 5-minute majors handed out, both to the same team. Up until that point, the team had been holding its own in a tie game in the second period.
However, after taking the first penalty, said team allowed three goals during the five minutes their player was in the box, essentially killing any chances it had at making a comeback.
To add insult to injury, the same team was assessed a second 5-minute major penalty toward the end of the second period. During the subsequent penalty kill, the team gave up another chunk of goals — all but putting the game out of reach for good even before the third period could be played.
The first of these two penalties was a textbook checking-from-behind, with a player receiving a cross-check in the back in the open ice without an obvious reason for why such an aggressive hit was needed. I had no problem with that player being assessed the 5-minute major, because it was a vicious hit of the type that needs to be taken out of the game completely.
However, the second 5-minute major given out was very weak and very easily could not have been called at all. The player who received the penalty was skating up the ice and ran into the back of a player from the other team who had been skating backwards. To me, it looked like two players running into each other and didn’t seem to warrant a 5-minute penalty. Maybe it could have been a 2-minute minor, but a major penalty was a stretch, at least in my eyes.
Another part of receiving a 5-minute major, aside from the 10-minute misconduct that goes along with it, is that I find a little odd that a referee has the ability to decide whether or not to give the offending player an additional game misconduct — which means the player has to sit out the next game.
As I have said before, I have no problem with a player getting what they deserve. So when a vicious hit is given out that could have or did cause another player harm, I can agree with kicking a player out for another game as part of their punishment.
But I don’t quite think leaving the call up to the referee’s discretion is a good thing, because some refs might not think the same as others and may give a game misconduct to a player who didn’t deserve it.
Losing a player to a game misconduct not only affects a team for that game, but the next one as well. It isn’t fair for teams to lose players for extra games when other players get off because one ref didn’t think a certain hit was worth a game misconduct.
If a hit was vicious enough to warrant a 5-minute major, then a player should lose the right to play in the next game as well. It should not be a judgment call by the referee, because if the hit wasn’t vicious or malicious in nature, then the player shouldn’t be getting a 5-minute major for something that could have been a 2-minute minor.
The one saving grace I see for this string of 5-minute major calls is that the hockey leagues that implemented the stricter rules on those types calls in only trying out the new rules on a one-year basis and will review the changes after the end of this season. From where I sit, I cannot see this rule being as strict next year as it has been this year, but maybe I am in the minority on this issue and way off base in my opinions.
I would like to close by saying that when I bring this point up about the 5-minute major penalties, I do not mean to say that I don’t care about the safety of players of all ages. I know that the leagues are only trying to protect players from vicious and malicious hits that could harm them in any way.
However, hockey is a physical, high-speed game where injuries can come from anywhere and at any time without a vicious hit needing to be involved.
I am just expressing my feelings on how a simple rule change meant to protect players can go too far and start to take away from the game that I love.