Travel concerns, rule changes and a revived program discussed at WCHA Media Day
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -
With the Western Collegiate Hockey Association opening league play on the first day of 2021, the conference held Media Day ahead of the upcoming season. WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson, Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepard and the 10 head coaches across the league joined the Zoom teleconference Wednesday to preview the 2020-21 campaign.
“We continue to work with our schools to ensure we meet our primary goal of returning to the ice safely," said Robertson in his opening statement. "While everyone in the WCHA is excited that meaningful games are on the horizon, we know we will need to navigate an ever-changing path as we move through the schedule, with the hope of completing a regular season and a postseason in March. I do not think any of us expected our schedules to come off without a hitch. Cancellations and postponements are likely and our staff will have to continue to be nimble and efficient as we deal with unexpected change that has unfortunately has become the norm in 2020.” he added.
The Alaska Nanooks will open the season with four exhibition games in-state against the University of Alaska Anchorage. The Seawolves will visit Fairbanks December 4-5, before the Nanooks travel to Anchorage for a pair of games the following weekend. UAF will play all of their December games in Alaska, as some concerns about traveling to and from Alaska still need to be addressed.
“We are still working with both Anchorage and Fairbanks on the scenario, but we made a commitment that in this shortened season, our teams are going to make the trips to Alaska and we hope that is successful,” said Robertson. "We are looking at all of the readings that we can in the state and what is going on in each of the states that our teams compete in. It is not just Alaska, all of our states [Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Alabama], this pandemic has changed some of their restrictions.
“I believe right now, the challenges are still there as far as travel is concerned, but we are taking every safety precaution with our schools to make sure we can play safely for the betterment of our student athletes and the people surrounding the game.” added Robertson.
Those safety precautions include testing each WCHA player at least three times a week during the course of the season.
Two of the points of emphasis for the WCHA this year include respect of the game and pace of play, according to Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepard.
“Go out and play the game, play it to the best of your ability, but respect the other team,” said Shepard of the ‘respect of the game’ point of emphasis. “The thing that we are going to be looking for and cracking down on as we have in the past is the contact to the head and the checking from behind. We have to take that out of the game to protect our student-athletes and our players, so they can play the game the way they’re supposed to be playing the game.”
In an effort to shorten the duration of games, Shepard is encouraging officials to “use video review in a matter that when they need to, they will, otherwise, make the decision on the ice, do not use [video replay] as a crutch and move on.”
A couple of tweaks have been made in regards to faceoffs. When an icing or a penalty is called, the attacking team will get to pick the side of the faceoff location, on either the left or right side of the ice. In past seasons, when a player that was in faceoff position moved, they would be removed from the faceoff puck drop.
“Now what we are going to do is, the linesman will standup, point to the offending person, go back down and drop the puck. We are not throwing the center out, because what that does is cause more time and they want to speed the game up," explained Shepard. "But if they do move or if there is an infraction a second time, there will be an automatic penalty to the offending team, no matter if it is attacking or defensive.”
Changes to overtime within league games have been made as well. If the two teams are tied after three periods, there will be a 5-minutes, 3-on-3 overtime session. If the game is still tied, the two teams will compete in a three-person shootout. If the game is still tied, it will become a sudden death shootout scenario, where the next team to score while preventing the opposing team from scoring will win. For the WCHA and NCAA playoffs, overtime will consist of a 5-on-5 sudden death period of 20 minutes.
It was announced Wednesday that the University of Alabama-Huntsville’s hockey program, which was said to be eliminated by the school in May, secured $17 Million to keep the program alive for years to come. By networking supporters, alumni and donors, the program will be able to fund $1.7 Million over the next 10 years to operate the team. In June of 2019, seven of the 10 schools (Bemidji State, Bowling Green State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State-Mankato and Northern Michigan) that comprise the WCHA announced their plans of departure from the conference. In November, Alabama-Hunstville followed suit by filing the necessary paperwork leave the WCHA as well, going into effect for the 2021-22 season. Part of the fundraising efforts for UAH include building an on-campus ice arena for the program.
UAF will drop the puck on the 2020-21 season when they welcome UAA to Fairbanks on December 4. The University has yet to formally announce where the games will be played or if fans will be allowed to attend. The Carlson Center, home to Nanooks hockey, is currently being used by the Fairbanks North Star Borough as an emergency COVID-center.
On Tuesday, the Nanooks were able to host their first full team practice of the season, rather than in small groups as they have been heading into the season. The UAF roster boasts 19 underclassmen and two seniors in Max Newton and Justin Young. Notable departures include goaltender Anton Martinsson and Steven Jandric, the team’s leading scorer last season.
“It is hard to replace a player like Steven, he is a very talented player, a great player," said Nanooks head coach Erik Largen. "I think we are just going to have to do it by committee and it is just too early to know what is going to happen with those freshman and the guys who haven’t had the opportunity to play an NCAA game yet. I think there are a lot of guys that are going to be able to earn those types of minutes and those opportunities and see which guys are able to step up throughout the course of the year.” added Largen.
The entirety of WCHA Media Day can be found on their Youtube channel.
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