Changes will make game better

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

You want changes, you got changes.

Now stop whining and let's see how it works.

The changes in hockey's rules are a result of discussion among people at all levels to improve the game.

As a result, the changes are here to stay.

"It will be called this way (in the regular season) for sure," London Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "They're serious about it."

Changes in the way a game is called have been attempted in the past but always abandoned after a short time.

Beaulieu and his Knights have lived with the new rule changes for the better part of two weeks. They've played five exhibition games and, like their opponents, have spent a large part of those games in the penalty box. Despite the long road to the box, the games have taken less time to play.

The moaning has already begun, of course, much from the fans. "Too many penalties. You can't lay a stick on anybody" -- and on and on.

And this is just junior hockey's preseason schedule. Wait till the regular season and the National Hockey League begins.

Repeat after me. Stay the course and the game will be better because of all that. Stay the course and the game will be better because of it.

But it's going to take time.

For the most part, hockey people have been mellow when it comes to commenting on the rule changes. Ottawa 67's coach Brian Kilrea has been the exception. He levelled a blast at the rule changes that earned him a $5,000 fine from the OHL.

Others, though, don't like the idea of a straightforward yes or no answer.

"Do you like the rule changes?"

"They had to make changes," Beaulieu said. "It's going to take a lot of time for the coaches and players to get used to it."

"Do you like the rule changes?"

"It's sped up the game," Beaulieu said.

"Yeah, but do you like the rule changes."

"The obstruction, especially on faceoffs was getting out of control," continued Beaulieu. "All the rules will put way more pressure on the defence."

OK, let's try this. What rule do you most like?

"I like the tag-up offside," said Beaulieu. "It's good for the flow of the game."

The tag-up means an offside player can come back outside the blue-line, allowing play to continue.

What rule do you most dislike?

"The icing the puck rule," he said. "It means some tired 16-year-old will have to stay on the ice for two minutes."

A team that ices the puck is not allowed to make a line change.

Even without offering a direct comment on whether the rule changes are good or not, Beaulieu has clearly defined areas in the game that needed work. And if the rules manage to speed the game up and improve the flow, then they are a success.

Coaches may not like the changes but most believe changes needed to be made.

Which brings us to the players. How are they reacting to all the penalties?

"The players are getting frustrated," Beaulieu said. "They're used to hooking and grabbing, especially in the corners."

Good, maybe they'll learn to play the game without all the garbage. If these rules had been in place last year, the Knights would have lost fewer games than the seven they lost during the regular season.

Beaulieu referred to the time needed for coaches and players to get used to the rule changes. He may well have added referees and fans. So far, referees have been inconsistent and heavy-handed. Good referees will eventually learn to call the game in a consistent fashion. As for the heavy-handedness, it's a good way to get everyone's attention now in the hopes the players will get the message.

As for the fickle fan ('I hate all the hooking and holding,' while in the next breath, 'How can you call 35 minor penalties? That's ridiculous.'), give the rule changes a chance. Even those turned off by the game enjoy the thought of Sidney Crosby getting a chance to use his skill without a 230-pound gorilla on his back every second.

MORRIS DALLA COSTA'S TAKE ON THE MAJOR RULE CHANGES

- Shootout

If a game is tied after a five-minute overtime, teams go into a shootout, with three shooters each. If still tied, it's a sudden-death shootout. Winning team gets two points, the loser one point.

Thumbs up: Everyone likes to see a winner.

- Goalies handling puck

New lines define the area behind the net a goalie can handle the puck. He can't play the puck outside that area, otherwise a penalty is called.

Thumbs down: Who cares? Most goalies only played the puck when it came in that area anyway, especially in junior hockey.

- Goalie equipment changes

Equipment will be reduced in size, including the size of sweaters. Goaltending pads will be reduced from 12 to 11 inches.

Thumbs up: Size matters. Some goalies were looking like the Michelin Man.

- Two-line passes

The centre red-line will only be used for icing calls and no longer for the purpose of two-line offside passes.

Thumbs up: More breakaways, more long passes. Teams need to be especially careful when changing.

- Icing

Teams that ice the puck will not be able to make personnel changes. Linesmen can wave off icings they judge came from bad passes instead of deliberate icing calls.

Thumbs up: Anything that prevents teams from engaging in the most boring play in hockey is worth trying.

- Tag-up offside

An offside is not whistled down if offending team players make it out of the offensive zone before the puck goes back in.

Thumbs up: Delayed offsides are boring. Might as well make both sides work, one clearing the zone, the other bringing the puck out.

- Bigger offensive zone

The neutral zone will shrink and the area inside the blue-lines will be made bigger.

Thumbs down: Will have minimal effect. Would rather had had wider blue-lines spawning more opportunities off the rush.


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