Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Suns stiffen fighting penalties, scrap two-line pass rule

Big changes effectively immediately

The Sun Valley Suns men's hockey team has taken swift action to improve its product in the wake of a serious fighting incident during the March 4 home game against the Siskiyou (Ore.) Summits squad.

Effective immediately, the Suns organization has asked its officiating crew to enforce stiffer fighting penalties in senior games played at Sun Valley Skating Center, Suns general manager John Burke said.

Other changes will be enacted, too. From now on, the Suns will scrap the two-line pass rule and thus eliminate the red line. They'll also enforce automatic icing, and have each team skate with four players during five-minute overtime periods prior to shootouts.

The changes are both subtle, and dramatic.

In general, they are designed to reduce potential injuries, open up the action and make Suns hockey "more family oriented," said Burke.

"For 30 years, we've been playing NHL (National Hockey League) rules," said Burke. "But we're sanctioned by USA Hockey, and USA Hockey along with college and international hockey have stricter penalties for fighting. Those are the ones we'll follow now."

Players assessed with five-minute fighting major penalties during games will also receive immediate game ejections, and those ejections will prohibit the players from participating in the next scheduled game, Burke said.

"I told Bobby (director of officials Bobby Noyes) that we will have zero tolerance for fighting. We'll adhere to the fighting rules. It will still be up to a referee's discretion whether it's a fighting or a roughing penalty. One thing is for sure—if a guy drops his gloves, he's gone," said Burke.

The automatic icing rule is designed to eliminate the race for the puck that many times ends up in violent collisions. "We wanted the rule so we can reduce potential injuries and incidents," said Burke.

Burke said he expected the NHL, when it eventually returns to the ice, to eliminate the red line by scrapping the two-line pass rule. Currently, NHL players can't complete a pass to a teammate if the puck travels untouched over two lines—your team's own blue line and the center red line.

Eliminating the red line will pump up offensive action by improving the chances of "home run passes," breakout plays and exciting counterattacks. "It's a faster game without the red line. It opens up the game and makes it more spectacular," said Burke.

Opening up the game and its scoring possibilities was also the reason behind mandating that each team skate four players instead of five in the single, five-minute OTs, Burke said. If the game is still tied, the outcome will go immediately to a shootout, he said.

The Suns have two more home series planned in the 2004-05 season.

Visiting Friday and Saturday, March 25-26 for 7 p.m. games are the Minnesota All-Stars. And the Manchester Mountaineers from McCall are due in Sun Valley to wrap up the season Friday and Saturday, April 1-2.

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