By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – With opening weekend came the ECHL’s first real taste of new hockey, as it’s been called. The initial adjustment has been close to what Commissioner Brian McKenna anticipated.
The new rules, which mainly crack down on the impeding of puck carriers, were introduced into the NHL and AHL last year. It took four to six weeks for players to adapt, McKenna said.
“It’s tough to break old habits,” said McKenna, who was at the Sovereign Center for Sunday’s Reading Royals game against Pensacola.
“The idea for doing this is certainly not to have tons of penalties. The idea is that the players will adjust and then eventually it becomes a game that’s more wide open, has a lot more flow and more scoring chances and a more fun product to watch for our fans.”
As expected, scoring, power plays and power-play goals were way up in the league’s first weekend. Games averaged 7.0 goals, 27.7 power plays and 3.4 power-play goals.
Last season, ECHL games averaged 6.3 goals, 11.4 power plays and 2.0 power-play goals. Those numbers were an increase from 2004-05, thanks to new rules such as the two-line pass and a decrease in the size of goalie pads.
“We expect that scoring will be up a little bit,” McKenna said. “We hope that’s not just scoring on the power play, but that five-on-five scoring will go up a little bit as well. Players will no longer have to worry about trying to get a scoring chance and of someone holding them, hooking them, being draped over their back, that sort of thing.
“I think the end result is going to be more scoring chances.”
For the Royals, there were 37 penalties and 25 power plays in Friday’s win at Trenton, 26 penalties and 18 power plays in Saturday’s shootout loss to the Titans, then 25 penalties and 16 power plays Sunday against Pensacola. So, maybe players already are getting used to the changes.
For now, McKenna agrees that it will take patience on the part of everyone. As for the officials, he feels the league has done and is doing everything possible to bring them up to speed.
“From an officiating point of view, in the long run it should be easier,” McKenna said. “Before there was always a lot of decision-making in terms of is it a penalty, is it not a penalty, do I let it go in a close game? Those sorts of things. Now it isn’t.
“Is it a trip, is it a hook, is it a hold, did you impede someone’s progress or not? That’s very easy to determine. So it kind of takes a lot of interpretation out of the rule books. It’s a lot of work, certainly, for our officials early on. But I think in the long run it makes their job a little easier.”
McKenna said the ECHL isn’t planning on adopting the two-referee system used by the NHL, though the league experimented with it in the preseason.
For example, there were multiple refs on the ice during the Royals’ Oct. 8 intra-squad scrimmage, which was held in conjunction with the on-ice officials training camp in Reading.
“We don’t plan on it right now,” McKenna said. “Admittedly, there still may be small things behind the play that only one referee is going to miss. The NHL can watch for the stuff behind the play and catch some of that, where our guys may miss.
“But our guys, clearly where we want the focus to be is on the play, on the puck carrier, and make sure we catch those penalties.”