Since the Northern Pacific Hockey League was founded in 2000, the league has been dedicated to developing and preparing players for the next level. In order to put players in the best possible position to develop the necessary skills to progress on to the next level, each player needs as much ice time as possible and a safe environment in which to play.
Aside from injuries, penalties are the biggest culprit that prevents kids from getting the necessary ice time to develop and hone their skills. Whether that’s a two-minute minor for something as innocent as tripping, or a much more series offense that equates to a match misconduct; all penalties take ice time away from the players.
Knowing that it is absolutely crucial for players to stay on the ice, the NPHL has taken the necessary steps to ensure that players spend their time on the ice, and not in the penalty box. Between the 2014 – 2015 and 2015 – 2016 seasons, major penalties are down nearly 50 percent in the NPHL.
During the 2014 – 2015 season, there were a total of 70 major penalties between 248 regular season games. As of January 11th, 2016, there has been only 21 major penalties in 146 games. Major penalties are not taken lightly in the NPHL because when a player is assessed with a major penalty, they must serve a one-game suspension.
Steve Stevens, the NPHL’s director of officials, commented on the league’s progression to a cleaner game. Stevens said, “this season has been a lot better than previous seasons when it comes to penalties. There are less majors and less frivolous penalties. When I say frivolous that means penalties that don’t need to be taken, such as mouth penalties and disrespect penalties.”
Garry Swain, the NPHL commissioner, also shared his thoughts about the league seeing less penalties. He said, “from a league perspective, we really have looked at major penalties seriously. These kids are playing a tough and physical game to begin with, and we want to make sure these kids are playing a clean and respectful game. We are all in the development part of this game, so we want to make sure everyone stays healthy.”
When major penalties decrease from about .5 per game to .25 per game, it’s not by chance. There is a lot of work and effort put forth from the commissioner of the league all the way to the coaches and referees, who are on the ice every night teaching these players the correct fundamentals.
To have such a drastic decline in major penalties, it is in large part due to two particular groups of people, coaches and referees. Swain said, “to me, the front line of this are the coaches and the referees. But the league is also in the leadership position as it continues to emphasize the importance of keeping the kids on the ice, and out of the penalty box. This reduction in major penalties just speaks to the high-quality coaches we have in the NPHL.”
Stevens added to Swain’s point as he said, “I think the decrease in players taking major penalties is due to the coaches and the new requirements. It use to be that if you got a major penalty, you sat in the box for five minutes and then you were back in the game. Now when you get a major penalty, you’re out for the next game.”
This change to the new requirements were because of the junior supplement, which came out about two years ago. “What the supplement did is that it took a lot of these penalties that were just majors and made them a major and a game. Now players know the consequences of taking a major penalty in a game,” stated Stevens.
When it comes to eliminating major penalties in hockey, “we are on the right track,” said Stevens. “If you think back throughout the history of hockey, we use to have all the bench clearing brawls, the line brawls, and all of that. We just don’t see that anymore. That’s because players are now held responsible for their actions. Now that players are being held responsible, coaches tell players ‘don’t go there.’ That’s because players simply can’t get away with these actions anymore.”
As previously stated, the crack down on major penalties has kept players on the ice, which allows them to continue to build their skills. Stevens said, “with major penalties being taken much more seriously, it has aided players in their growth and development.”
Stevens continued, “the NPHL isn’t known so much for building players to go to the National Hockey League, but we are known for getting these players into college and upper levels of hockey. If they happen to go on to the NHL, then that is just more icing on the cake. We have an excellent record of moving players to college and helping them with their education. That’s what I think it is all about.”
No league can truly prepare players for the next level of hockey without keeping them on the ice for as long as possible. Swain stated “for us as a league, we want to make sure parents know that we are working extremely hard to ensure that our games are good, hard hockey, but also good, hard, and clean hockey. We look at that from a league perspective so parents feel safe that their kids are in our league.”
The NPHL is extremely excited about taking such a huge leap forward because of the opportunities it provides every player in the league. Games across the league will begin tomorrow; tune in to the NPHL’s website for a full nightly recap following the conclusion of the final game.
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