'Old-time' hockey not dead yet

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

There are some disturbing signs creeping back into new-age hockey.

Even with rave, for the most part, reviews still coming in about the new game, watch enough hockey and you'll see signs that the old game is not dead yet.

The little trickle of old game has not yet become a wave but plug whatever little leaks there are before there's too many to handle.

After watching two Ontario Hockey League games and two National Hockey League games in recent days, there's a smidgen of doubt beginning to form about the commitment to the new rules and the new style of play by officials.

Case in point.

Thursday night the London Knights played the Guelph Storm. It was 2-2 late in the game. Dylan Hunter tries to break out of the zone and doesn't have the puck. Ryan Callahan hits him and Hunter goes down.

No penalty.

Minutes later the Storm's Matt D'Agostini is going after the puck and Frank Rediker refuses to let him get by even though D'Agostini doesn't have the puck.

No penalty.

It was late in the game but time and situation are supposed to have no impact on penalty calls any longer.

Watch closely and you'll see more stick use, more players getting away with restraining other players.

Earlier in the season all the above would have drawn penalties.

There were only four goals scored in the Guelph-London game.

It ended in a shootout. And even though the Knights were badly outshot, there weren't a significant number of quality chances.

What's troublesome is much of this is happening with referees watching it happen but choosing not to call it.

"The league is continuing to monitor on a game-to-game basis the standard of enforcement," said Ted Baker, director of operations and referee-in-chief for the OHL. "Statistically, the penalties continue to be maintained in terms of power play. Where we do see some concern, we send clips to officials the next morning or that afternoon. We use the clips to support calls that were made or to raise concerns about calls that weren't made."

Baker says there may be some instances where the game isn't called to the degree the rules state it should be called.

"Not every game is refereed the way we want it to be. We're not naive to believe they all are," he said. "But we see a maintaining of the standard; however, we have to make sure when there is a relaxation in any particular game we're on top of it through supervisors and partnership with Cogeco and Rogers (Television) we are able to see so many games and get a flavour of how it's being called."

Despite Baker's assurances, you don't have to watch an OHL game to see that the old game is creeping back into the new game. The Toronto Maple Leaf-Atlanta Thrasher game had plenty of the old game's hooking, holding and restraining fouls.

There's a detectable pattern to what's happening. On Thursday, veteran OHL referee Scott Hutchinson handled the game and he handled it alone.

Veteran referees call the game differently than younger referees. It takes a lot more training to change something that's been ingrained in a referee for 10 years. Even though their mind tells them that there's two minutes left in overtime and what the player did is now considered a penalty, blowing the whistle when you would never have blown it before in that situation, is difficult.

The game is also called differently when there's two referees. A lot more gets caught and a lot more gets called. When the second-half of the season rolls around, expect a lot more two-referee games.

Vigilance must be maintained because when previous efforts were made to change the game, it was two months into the experiment that the experiment began to erode.

Baker says the referees have bought in.

"They like the game because it's easier to call. They don't have to worry about calling the penalty," he said.

Let's hope they continue to buy in and do what they are supposed to because this is a better game.


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