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Guilty allowed to go free in college hockey

October 24, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

Two players, a Wildcat and Wolverine, were issued contact-to-the-head penalties this weekend, which results in a five-minute major and the player's departure from the game.

One penalty involved what I thought was a perfectly good hockey play when Northern Michigan University sophomore Reed Seckel delivered an open-ice, shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Michigan's Travis Lynch at the blue line.

The other consisted of Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick punching the Wildcats' Andrew Cherniwchan.

Article Photos

Northern Michigan University senior forward Andrew Cherniwchan takes a blow to the head from Michigan senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick on Friday at the Berry Events Center. Both players were ejected from the game, however, Cherniwchan received a game disqualification for fighting while Hunwick only received a game misconduct for contact to the head, allowing the Wolverine to return for Saturday's contest. (NMU Sports Information photo)

One player received a one-game suspension. The other has not been suspended as of yet. Guess who was suspended?

Not the person who threw the punch.

Hunwick was tossed from the Wolverines' 5-3 loss on Friday for making contact with Cherniwchan's noggin, but the senior goaltender returned Saturday to give Michigan a shootout victory over Northern after the two sides tied 3-3.

Seckel was ejected after laying out Lynch, resulting in a five-minute power play for Michigan - which the Wildcats killed - and a night off when Northern returns to the ice on Friday at Western Michigan.

Call me ignorant, but this column is not all about conspiracy theories.

I don't think the officials this weekend were wearing maize and blue underneath their black and white stripes and I highly doubt Michigan coach Red Berenson slipped them a $20 bill in hopes the stripes would not leave the Wolverines with one goaltender on Saturday.

The discrepancy in sentencings has nothing to do with Hunwick wearing maize and blue and Seckel wearing green and gold.

It's about NCAA rules forcing referees to make snap decisions based on a real-time view of an ultra-fast game.

If only we had the technology that would allow us to slow down the action and give us a second, third or even fourth look. If we only had more time to make a decision on whether or not a player should be forced to miss a game or not.

When it comes to deciding suspensions - even a single-game suspension - college hockey and the CCHA need to turn to video replay to determine whether a player needs more time to think about what he has done. There's no need to determine a suspension within minutes of an offense.

I understand that the NCAA and CCHA want to send a message about checking from behind, contact to the head and fighting. There's no need for any of those types of plays in the game.

However, the speed of NCAA Division I college hockey leaves a lot of room for error. If players can make mistakes on snap decisions on the ice, then why can't a referee be wrong, even if he made a call with what he thought was good intentions?

At first look, in real time, I had a tough time arguing with the call on Seckel, though I thought it was crazy he was being suspended and Hunwick was on the ice Saturday.

Down in the NMU locker room after the game, I looked in on the coaches' review of the tape. We looked to see if Seckel left his feet. If he did, it was only centimeters. Did he have his arm or elbow up? Nope, arm was at his side. Did he lower his shoulder and strike Lynch in the head? No. Lynch did lower his head at the last minute, flinching in anticipation of being jacked up, but Seckel caught him in the shoulder.

It took us multiple looks and a frame-by-frame breakdown to determine it was a violent, but clean hit, not worthy of a suspension.

Why couldn't the officials do the same thing we did before issuing a game disqualification?

If any incident needed video replay to sort out, it was the second-period melee on Friday night which resulted in Hunwick, Cherniwchan and Michigan's Luke Moffatt being ejected.

Cherniwchan and Moffatt also received game disqualifications, which carry the one-game suspension. However, neither player threw a punch based on the video I reviewed. Moffatt and Cherniwchan did hug for a stint, but it would be tough to call what either player did "fighting."

The extracurricular activities between NMU's C.J. Ludwig and UM's David Wohlberg were a different story as those two got physical after Wohlberg took a run at Cherniwchan for messing with Hunwick.

Neither Ludwig or Wohlberg were issued a single penalty minute.

The officials handled the scuffle as well as they could, but they probably could have saved themselves some time in sorting out the penalties by looking at video from any of at least four NMU and Michigan cameras in the press box, all of which were hooked up to computers.

And if you don't want to go that route in the game, why can't the officials review the video following the final whistle to make sure the guilty parties are charged?

The result of the NCAA and CCHA policies was one, if not more, guilty parties got away with what the rulebook deems suspendible offenses, while two or more were innocently suspended for lesser offenses.

The NCAA may feel all warm, fuzzy, strong and tough about its automatic game disqualifications, but all it's doing is encouraging players like Hunwick to throw another punch.

Cherniwchan wasn't the first forward to receive a shot to the jaw from the Michigan netminder as Michigan State fans reminded me this weekend - search Dustin Gazley on YouTube - and if the CCHA doesn't act, who would blame him for throwing another?

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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