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September 15, 2005 - Flyers learning how to play by the new rules

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Flyers learning how to play by the new rules




morane@phillynews.com

Hooking is out.

So is clutching, grabbing, shirt-holding, blocking, crosschecking from behind, and just about anything that hockey players have gotten accustomed to using to slow down or interfere with faster players or players in better offensive positions.

It's all part of the postlockout NHL, an era where offense is the name of the game, the rules have all changed, and there is a real focus on making the game more entertaining for the fan.

And now the players have to learn to live without those techniques, starting right now in training camp.

"This is going to be a huge adjustment for everyone, all over the ice," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said. "It's a complete 180 from the norm and we're still trying to get used to it.

"Even during practice we have questions for the coaches, the coaches have questions. No one knows exactly what's a penalty and what isn't a penalty and we won't know until we get in a game situation."

Since Tuesday, when training camp opened, the Flyers have been running drills and scrimmages where a lot of the focus is on the new rules. The NHL distributed a video that demonstrated what is now a penalty and what isn't and the message was clear - hook, hold or interfere anywhere on the ice and it's a 2-minute penalty.

Most players and coaches think it's a good idea, but there are mixed opinions on what the result will be. Everyone agrees that it will take some getting used to and that teams will get a lot of penalty-killing practice until it's figured out.

Most of the emphasis is on players using sticks to hook and hold back players who don't have the puck from either forechecking into the offensive zone or going to the net.

But it doesn't stop there; using a hand to grab or hold also will be called, as will crosschecking from behind, in front of the net.

And the rules will apply all over the ice.

"There is a lot of judgment stuff all over the ice," said Primeau, who incidentally, was featured in the film crosschecking Toronto's Darcy Tucker from behind in front of the net to keep him from getting a scoring chance.

A penalty was not called in the game, but on the tape the word "penalty" appears under the image.

"There are so many questions," Primeau said. "What is too late to close a gap? What's a free hand? Is it a penalty when you wrap a guy up? Is it a free hand when you have body position? Is the stick anywhere on the body, even when you're on the defensive side, allowed? There are a thousand issues.

"I would not want to be a referee. Until they sort it out it's going to be a judgment call and I don't think there will be sustained offensive-zone play quite as much as people think. As soon as you lose body position and the puck, you've got to regain body position and you can't get a stick on a guy."

Sami Kapanen, a forward who has used his speed since he got into the league in 1995, is happy to see the change. He has been frustrated for years by beating defensemen with his feet only to be hooked from behind.

"If they're calling everything that they're talking about, I think that there are going to be more scoring chances," Kapanen said. "The defensemen are always using their sticks and slowing down the offense and now they can't do it.

"There'll either be more scoring chances or a lot more power plays. You have to look at the way the league has been going in the last few years, there's been a lot of hooking and grabbing. Now you've got to adjust and try to move your feet more quickly.

"Before, if I didn't get the first step [on defenders] it was hard for me because they would just hook me."

It's a good concept. But the problem is: Will it last?

Two seasons ago, the league announced it was going to crack down on interference and obstruction and called penalty after penalty for the first few months.

As the year progressed, fewer calls were made and enforcement was different from referee to referee. Defenseman Mike Rathje is in favor of the new rules but is worried about the issue of consistency.

"My feeling is, how are they going to call the stuff?" Rathje said. "What are you allowed to do and what are you not? It's going to be different for every referee. That's going to be the hardest part, who's refereeing tonight and what are they going to call.

"You go out there and you can't really touch anybody. You've got to protect your own ice and get in front of people. They want a speed game and that's fine. But there's going to be an adjustment period to know what's allowed and what's not.

"It's not going to change my game. I adjusted to the last time they did that with all the obstruction calls and stuff. It's still the same stuff - you pin a guy, you've got to let him go. If a guy beats you, you have to get back into position. But some guys are going to find it hard getting used to not using the stick.

"I hope it lasts," Rathje said. "With all these new changes, I'm sure they're going to keep it serious. I'm sure this will be an experimental year for everything. I just hope that all the referees are on the same page."