Hunter feels penalties will drop

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Dale Hunter doesn't think the impact of hockey's new-look rules -- at least at the junior level -- were reflected in the exhibition season.

The London Knights head coach feels the extraordinary number of infractions issued during the OHL preseason will decrease once the regular schedule begins.

That's when fans will notice an increase in speed and skill and a decline in clutching, grabbing, hacking and whacking, according to the retired 19-year NHLer.

"In exhibition, you're playing everybody (on the roster). There's not two points on the line," Hunter said yesterday during an OHL regional media meeting. "When there's two points on the line and there's one kid taking a couple of hooking or holding penalties to put you down, they won't play at the end of the game. They'll be on the bench and every kid wants to play."

Hunter saw something in Saturday night's NHL exhibition game between Philadelphia and Atlanta at the John Labatt Centre that confirmed players will change their style if their ice time is at stake.

"(Flyers forward and former Sarnia Sting) Jon Sim was going to hook a guy, but you could see he thought twice about it," Hunter said. "Guys want to play. They're still learning what they can and can't do, but I don't think there will be 13 or 14 penalties (per team) a game. My job is to make them (the new rules) go.

"Sometimes, the players will take some extra sugar before a game and there will be more penalties, but that happens."

Though the OHL has a history of embracing many of the rules the NHL adopts, league commissioner Dave Branch said Hunter was a catalyst for rule changes by commenting on the danger to talented players in junior hockey.

During last year's gritty Western Conference final series between London and Kitchener, Hunter said, "If I was a skilled guy coming into this league, I'd be a little iffy-iffy."

The OHL brass feels enforcement of the new rules addresses that concern, but there also has to be fear the preseason parade to the penalty box will continue through the regular season and playoffs. Eliminating exciting even-strength play, the back-and-forth action all puck fans crave, would be almost as damaging as the rampant interference.

"Right now, it's a specialty game and we want to make sure that's not the order of the day," Branch said.

OHL referee-in-chief Ted Baker said despite the increase in minor penalties, the average exhibition game took less time to play -- two hours, 19 minutes per tilt.


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