UND men's hockey: Illegal hits come into focus
GRAND FORKS -- It's been more than four years since UND's Robbie Bina was checked illegally from behind into the boards -- a hit that broke Bina's neck, kept him from playing hockey for a year and a half and prompted the NCAA to enforce tougher rules on those types of hits.
The tougher rules and stricter penalties haven't eliminated those dangerous plays from the college game, though, and UND has been continually reminded of that.
For the third season in a row, the Sioux are dealing with an injury that is the result of a check from behind into the boards.
On Friday night, Sioux captain Chay Genoway was illegally hit by St. Cloud State forward Aaron Marvin, leaving the reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association defensive player of the year dazed and injured. He is out indefinitely, the school says.
Marvin was ejected from the game and the league later added a one-game suspension.
Last season, Minnesota State-Mankato forward Trevor Bruess sent Derrick LaPoint into the end boards, causing the defenseman to fracture his fibula and tibia. LaPoint was out for the season and off skates for several months. Bruess was not penalized during the game, but was later given a one-game suspension.
Two years ago, LaPoint was checked from behind into the boards by Denver forward Matt Glasser at the WCHA Final Five. LaPoint suffered a concussion and didn't play again the rest of the season. Glasser was given a two-minute minor for boarding.
"It still happens and it's a mystery to me," WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said of the hits from behind. "We've beefed up that rule and our officials know to always error on the side of safety. They are doing the best they possibly can. It wasn't the officials' fault that Marvin hit Genoway. We're trying to emphasize that there's no tolerance for it, but it hasn't stop it from happening."
Marvin is the second WCHA player this season to be ejected and later suspended because of an illegal hit from behind.
Last month, Minnesota State-Mankato captain Geoff Irwin suffered an upper-body injury after Wisconsin's Craig Smith sent him into the boards from behind. Smith was given a game disqualification, which carries an automatic one-game suspension. The school later added another game to his suspension.
"For some reason, we do have an uptick in checking from behind in the league this year," McLeod said. "Some of them have been in non-league contests, with different teams. But we've definitely seen an uptick and I'm not quite sure what that's all about."
Hits to the head are a concern
Marvin's hit on Genoway involved a forearm to the back of the head, planting Genoway's face into the glass. It is yet another headshot in a hockey season full of them at all levels.
In the WCHA, an open-ice hit to the head by Alaska-Anchorage's Jade Portwood fractured the jaw of Minnesota defenseman Nick Leddy, who will be out for six to eight weeks.
In the NHL, former Sioux forward Jonathan Toews, the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, missed a couple of weeks after an open-ice hit by Vancouver's Willie Mitchell. Florida's David Booth and Montreal's Matt D'Agostini also were injured with hits to the head this season.
Last month in the Ontario Hockey League, a hit from behind and to the head sent Kitchener Rangers forward Ben Fanelli to the hospital with a fractured skull. Fanelli spent more than a week in the hospital. The player who hit him was suspended for the rest of the season.
Because of these incidents, headshots were a hot topic during the NHL general manager meetings earlier this month. And it also prompted an emergency call with the NCAA Rules Committee.
The NCAA Rules Committee is expected to release a clarification on hits to the head later this week.
"We asked for a clarification and interpretation on hits to the head and hits when people are in vulnerable positions," McLeod said. "My hope is that it's going to help us with our quest to be concerned about checking from behind and hits on people in vulnerable positions. Really bad things can happen when guys are in vulnerable positions."
Who: No. 2 UND at No. 3 Denver.
When: 8:37 p.m. Friday, 8:07 p.m. Saturday.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 7-2-1 (5-2-1 WCHA); Denver 6-3-1 (4-1-1).
Of note: The Sioux may be without defenseman Chay Genoway, who was injured during Friday's 4-2 win over St. Cloud State.