WHL Preview

By Tom Hoffert

With the pre-season firing on all cylinders, it is time to look into the new rules of play for the WHL. Junior hockey fans are in for a real change this season with new procedures like the “Fast Face-Off” and “4-on-4” regulation play. Yes, this may be the season fans learn to love our gifted men in black and white stripes. This year may put them in better graces with fans due to a host of contraversial rules handed down by the Canadian Hockey League. These rule changes will be in effect during the pre-season and regular season in all three CHL umbrella leagues: the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

New Rules Overview:

“Fast Face-Off”- This procedure will essentially give the linesman the ability to drop the puck on face-offs, regardless of whether both centres are ready for the drop. The rule is based on a 5-second line change (per team) and an additional allocation of 5-seconds to prepare for the puck drop. When the team line changes are complete, the linesman will blow his whistle, indicating no more than five seconds until the puck drop will occur. The obvious result of this rule will be that players must quickly get in position for face-offs, knowing the other team may gain control of the puck if they are not prepared. Face-offs are the beginning step in garnering control of the play, thus teams will emphasize the importance of this new rule to their teams. Fans will definitely be divided on their thoughts about this new regulation. Some will love the quicker speed, others will publicly blast this untraditional method intended to speed up the tempo of line changes and play in general. The “Fast Face-Off” will be implemented on a trial basis until October 10th, at which time the league will assess the effectiveness of the rule and make a decision for the remainder of the season.

“4-on-4” Regulation Play- What fans will witness this season should prove to be quite popular to the crowds, and more importantly cause quite a stir in the CHL scouting universe. The “4-on-4 Regulation Play” rule states that if no other penalties are currently being served and one minor penalty is assessed to one player on EACH team (previously dubbed Coincidental Minors) during the same stoppage of play, then each player will serve their 2-minute Minor without having a player substituted for them. You may be cheering as you read this, knowing full well the fun and speed of 4-on-4 play. However, the world of CHL scouting may be forced to change the direction of player assessment. With increases in 4-on-4 play eminent this season, speed and skill become an increasingly more vital requirement for Junior players. CHL scouts will be forced to look for speedsters who can better take advantage of the open ice provided in 4-on-4 hockey, yet still endure the rigors and contact of traditional 5-on-5 matchups.

Additional minor tweaking of the rules occurred in icing calls and goaltender headgear. On any icing play, the icing rule will be in affect if a puck touches or passes through the goal crease. All goaltenders must be wearing CSA certified masks this season, which will cause many goaltenders to moan a bit more this season. The CSA approved mask offers less visibility than the shields worn in previous seasons and by most professional goalies.

CHL President David Branch states, “Rule changes like these serve to speed up the game and provide more entertainment to the millions of fans that attend games in the Canadian Hockey League. They also help ensure uniform rules and regulations through the 55-team CHL wherever possible.”

QUICK HITS: The Kelowna Rockets have bolstered their offense with the addition of 2000-01 Hockey East Rookie of the Year and 2001 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player in Chuck Kobasew. This high-scoring forward definitely has coaches turning in their sleep. Medicine Hat Tiger defensive phenom Jay Bouwmeester will certainly be one of the WHL‘s most scouted players this season as a possible #1 Draft Pick looms in his future, but watch for bulked-up NY Ranger property Ryan Hollweg to have a productive year at the center position. Speaking of the Medicine Hat, with the guidance of one of the WHL’s nicest people in Dave Andjelic (Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the MHT), the Tigers launched their new website . . . check it out: www.tigershockey.com Derek Parker from Melville SASK is getting another chance with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. If Nashville sends him back for another year of WHL seasoning, look for Prince George’s Dan Hamhuis to absolutely dominate this year from the blue line. If you have watched WHL hockey for many years, these two diminutive tough guys play just like Marty Standish and Tyler Willis. Portland’s Braydon Coburn is really going to turn some heads this season with his smart outlet passes and solid physical play. Portland Winter Hawk radio icon Dean “Scooter” Vrooman reports that Coburn came to camp in superior shape. The best part of it all, the NHL Draft won’t call Braydon until 2003. The Winter Hawks should be tough on defense this year, with many veterans returning to their lineup.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Canadian Hockey League has canceled all games played on U.S. soil on this day of Friday, September 14th, 2001 in a display of recognition for the millions of Americans grieving the tremendous losses in New York City, Washington, and Pennsylvania. The entire world lives in sorrow for the tragic events that occurred on the United State’s East Coast. However, knowing the strength of the American way of life, the United States will unite to overcome this act of terrorism.