It’s easy for non-Cornell fans to look at Mike Schafer’s one-game suspension tonight — following his Friday rant about the officiating — and call it a “tirade,” or accuse him of “whining,” etc… But that’s only because they don’t understand.
Schafer, yesterday, criticized the officiating for changing the way it was calling the game in the postseason — not calling it tight enough with the interference, as has been the directive for years. And, he said, this doesn’t help the ECAC in the national scene. Schafer has a history of making these kinds of pointed comments, but if you’ve seen him in action, you know that he is far, far from the type of coach that pisses and moans behind the bench all game — and he is not the kind of coach that berates officials all game, and so on.
When Schafer makes these kinds of comments, he a) knows exactly what he’s doing; b) is very measured in his comments – he is not flying off the handle; c) is willingly taking the risk of getting suspended; and d) is telling the truth.
And, apparently, it’s effective. Saturday’s game resulted in a couple dozen power plays, and Cornell won 4-0. But that’s not here or there. What’s important is that he was right. Well, let me take that back … I wasn’t there. But I did see the Princeton-Union game Friday, and with ECAC Director of Officals Paul Stewart there, I did make a comment during the game that I felt a lot more was being let go — both ways — than usual. From what I’ve heard, same was true in Ithaca. So, assuming that was the case in Ithaca too, then Schafer is right.
But let me digress for a second. I had to laugh when I read Schafer’s comment about him making similar remarks seven years ago, about hitting from behind penalties. He was right then too. But I laugh because I remember it clearly — I was doing radio for Cornell at the time. I remember Schafer specifically waited for me to get off the radio so that I could be there to record his comments. He wanted to make sure that everything he said went online verbatim. He wasn’t flying off the handle, far from it. If he was, he wouldn’t have been cool enough to wait that long. He knew exactly what he was doing.
So I could picture the same thing taking place last night — and that’s why I know he doesn’t just rant half-baked. It’s purposeful. And in 2003, the league did crack down more on hitting from behind. In fact, I ran an article that year explaining how hitting from behind calls — throughout the league — had gone up dramatically in the months after Schafer’s comments compared to before it.
Now, back to the comments themselves. His point about calling the game differently, and how it affects the league in the national sense, is dead on. The league is never going to say this, but it wants its top teams to go through to Albany — because this means more ECAC teams will make the NCAAs, and get better seeds. To do that, it has to make sure it sticks to the officiating standards that have been set in recent years in relation to interference, and not back off just because it’s the playoffs. It might be old school to say “let them play” in the playoffs, but that is exactly the wrong approach that we need anywhere in college hockey.
The goal is not to have a waltz to the penalty box all night — because, that may increase scoring, but it doesn’t increase the quality of the game. The goal is to call the penalties so that the players won’t take the penalties in the future. That opens the game up, and allows the more skilled teams to be more effective.
So we’ll see what kind of effect Schafer’s comments have. But so far, it’s nothing but positive for everyone, it seems to me.