The Dean's List

Jeff Sauer – the sixth-winningest coach in college history – writes a bi-weekly column for Inside College "The Dean" was the head coach for 31 years at Colorado College and Wisconsin, where he won two national titles. Sauer retired at the end of the 2001-02 season. He was the 2003 Snooks Kelley Award winner for contributions to U.S. hockey and ranked 16th on INCH's list of the all-time greatest college hockey coaches.

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October 6, 2004
The Dean's List by Jeff Sauer

I went to the movies in St. Paul, Minn., last month with a bunch of college hockey coaches. I think it's fair to say we had our eyes opened by what we saw.

It wasn't a Stephen King thriller on the screen, but a tape of the NCAA championship hockey game between Denver and Maine last spring. On display were over 30 moments from the tight-checking game – a lot of clutching, grabbing, tie-ups along the boards. All could have been called penalties. Only two were called.

Later that night I accompanied the Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches to the World Cup game at the Xcel Energy Center between the United States and Finland. I paid close attention to how many instances of hooking, holding, and picks off the faceoffs the two teams committed (the infractions I saw on the tape). There were hardly any in a game involving two of the best teams in the world.

That convinced me more than ever that the commissioners and supervisors of officials, in conjunction with the NCAA men's and women's ice hockey rules committee, are right in their point of emphasis this year: Proper rules enforcement.

You probably have read the letter went out to the ice hockey community in early September. If not, take a peek. Because this letter will give you an idea why the game is going to be called differently when the college season starts in full force this week.

When I was coaching, I have to admit I got caught up in the "let them play" philosophy that the commissioners and rules committee are attacking in this letter. After watching the game the last few years, I think it's time we open the game up. The changes are needed.

It doesn't mean there are more rules this year. It just mean the ones in the book are supposed to be called.

It means coaches and players have to buy into this. It mans referees have to be consistent. It means league commissioners and supervisor of officials need to back officials.

It probably means a lot of special teams situations, particularly early in the season, when adjustments are going to have to be made by everyone. But if it works, our game should get better. If there is less holding and hooking, clutching and grabbing, there should be more passing and more scoring opportunities.

In the WCHA, there will be another rule change that fans will be interested in. At the rinks in Colorado College and Denver, the referee will have the ability to use replay to double-check the validity of goals. He will have a TV monitor at the scorer's table and the referee, not a replay official, will watch the replay and make a determination on the play. This is a different process than the NCAA uses at the tournament. It is an experiment to see if it can help the game without adding a lot of expense.

But the big change will be in the enforcement of the rules and the consistency shown in making this initiative a success.

I know there are skeptics. And admittedly, we have heard about this type of crackdown before, only to see it go away by January. But judging from the reaction at the WCHA coaches meeting and talking to officials in the game, this time it feels different.

The commitment is there to make this work. If it does, every fan in the stands and player on the ice should notice.

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