EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 9, 2011

Players should police themselves

College Hockey
Mike McMahon

NORTH ANDOVER — There is a reason fighting belongs in hockey, even in college. It keeps the penalties down.

Crazy? Sounds it, doesn't it? But some simple data proves my point.

Merrimack College, which leads the nation with a 10-2-1 record, also leads the country in penalty minutes, raking up 21.8 penalty minutes per game.

"We are really confident in our penalty kill," Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said, "sometimes I think we're too confident with the amount of penalties we're taking. We need to be smarter with our play.

"It's stupid, just stupid. And that falls on me, period, flat out. If I don't address it, that's me, so I will address it moving forward and guys will be called out.

"It's hard for me to defend my players when I watch the video and it's penalties."

But maybe it's not all the Warriors.

Hockey East conference games are the most penalty-filled in the nation, with an average of 34.1 penalty minutes per game.

The next two leagues (WCHA and CCHA) average five minutes per game less than Hockey East.

The NHL, which theoretically should have more penalty minutes by virtue of its five-minute fighting majors, averages just over 23 minutes per game.

Hockey East led the country with an average of 31.2 PIM in conference games last season. That was four minutes more than any other conference.

Of the nation's 12 most penalized teams, Hockey East is home to five of them.

Is it the officials? Perhaps. But could it also be reckless invincibility of the players?

The NHL, in the last three seasons, has averaged fewer penalty minutes per game than every college conference.

But with fighting a more frequent occurrence, you wouldn't think that makes much sense.

Maybe it's fighting itself that keeps the penalties down at the NHL level.

Here's why:

With full cages and no repercussions for their actions, everyone is a tough guy in college hockey.

Merrimack's Kyle Bigos is an intimidating figure at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds. He spent 333 minutes in the box in his two-year junior hockey career.

When someone took liberties with a teammate, Bigos dropped his gloves. In college, he'd be ejected and forced to serve at least a one-game suspension.

Yesterday on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Bruins president Cam Neely was asked about eliminating fighting from the NHL if there were evidence that it was detrimental to the long-term health of its players.

Neely said, "I think you'd see a lot more penalties with the stick, and everyone would be a tough guy."

He's absolutely right.

There's no more proof than college hockey.

No fighting and full cages makes players feel invincible.

Dennehy even intimated such after Saturday's 6-1 loss to Providence, where he thought his goaltender, Joe Cannata, was beat up in his crease most of the night.

"This isn't the NHL, we don't go Lucic against whoever you have," he said.

No. 5 Merrimack at No. 11 Colgate

When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

Where: Starr Rink (Hamilton, N.Y.)

Radio: 1440 AM or merrimackathletics.com

Records: Merrimack 10-2-1, Colgate 11-4-1

Notes: Colgate's leading scorer, Chris Wagner, is serving a one-game suspension for a major penalty. Wagner is second in the ECAC with 20 points in 16 games. ... Kyle Bigos (undisclosed), Elliott Sheen (upper body), Dan Kolomatis (upper body) and Quinn Gould (undisclosed) are all expected to miss the game for the Warriors.