September 20, 2005
Colin Campbell wasn't surprised at all to see steady traffic to and from the penalty boxes in the opening games of the NHL pre-season.
The league's director of hockey operations says it will take time for players to adapt to a crackdown on hooking, holding and other fouls that the NHL hopes will bring more offence and excitement to the sport.
""It's like we expected,"" Campbell said Monday. ""You have a culture that's been ingrained for years.
""We don't know when it started, but the acceptance of so much hooking and holding will take a while to get out of the psyche. Even if they're told beforehand, people still tend to do it.""
A total of 37 penalties were called in the Montreal Canadiens' 3-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday night and 26 were handed out in the Ottawa Senators' 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Similarly high totals were seen across the league in the first weekend of pre-season matches.
""Hopefully, by the start of the season, we'll get where we want _ more skating and open play,"" said Campbell. ""Skating is the foundation of the game of hockey.
""I don't know why we should punish good skaters by allowing people to slow them down.""
There have been crackdowns in the past that produced similar streams of penalties early in the season, only to be abandoned by mid-season.
Once again, the NHL is insisting the crackdown will stick, but this time, coming off the lockout that erased the entire 2004-05 season, players and coaches seem to be convinced it is for real.
Like many NHL coaches, Montreal's Claude Julien has his players working on special drills to practice checking and defensive coverage within the rules.
And he intends to cut down the training camp roster earlier than usual, by the end of this week, so his NHL squad will be ready when the season starts on Oct. 5.
Sheldon Souray, one of Montreal's top defencemen, said it will take game action to get used to strict enforcement of the rules.
""There's drills you can do, but nothing is going to get you into game mode like playing in exhibition games,"" he said. ""I want to get into as many games as I can going into the regular season so I'll know what I can get away with and what I can't.""
Souray was shocked at all the penalty calls, particularly for mild holds and shoves that had become standard defensive moves.
""It wasn't anything like what I expected,"" said Souray. ""They were calling some stuff that blew my mind.
""There were times when a player literally pushed a guy and got a penalty for it. It's going to be tough.""
He is skeptical about the crackdown and questions whether fans really want to watch a game interrupted every few minutes by penalty calls. Souray said how the crackdown goes over with the fans will ultimately decide whether it continues.
""I don't know if the fans, at the end of the day, will feel it's a better product on the ice when you're stopping plays and interrupting the flow of the game to give penalties,"" he said. ""But it's early, we'll see.
""Once the competition gets better, you can adjust and maybe things will level out. But last (Sunday) night, I thought it slowed down the game and wasn't much fun to watch.""
While there were a lot of power plays, there wasn't a flood of goals, although power play units are far from mid-season form and not all teams had their best scorers on the ice. Montreal, for instance, dressed only seven players who were NHL regulars in 2003-04 while Atlanta left sniper Marian Hossa at home.
Goaltender Jose Theodore is convinced the penalty calls will slow down over time.
""Obviously, they want to make a point that they're going to apply the new rules with the hooking and the holding, but to watch, it was a bit off-tempo because there was so many penalties,"" said Theodore.
""But after a couple of games, players are going to adjust and we'll see much quicker hockey and a lot less penalties.""
Campbell said one positive that emerged from the lockout was that it gave the NHL time to examine the sport and find ways to make it more appealing to players and fans.
And he added: ""The growing pains of trying to adapt to this are much better than what we were doing last year.""