They’re called penalties for a reason.
In hockey, a variety of infractions will earn you a timeout in the penalty box and leave your team outmanned on the ice, vulnerable to giving up goals that can change the course of a game, and a season.
Until Saturday night the Rapid City Rush were the most penalized team in the Central Hockey League. Their 446 penalties-in-minutes trails only the 513 minutes earned by the Arizona Sundogs.
The steady flow of Rush players to the penalty box has led to more than the 21 power-play goals given up by Rapid City.
“When we play 5-on-5 hockey we’re pretty darn good, but killing penalties all night long ruins the flow on the bench. Guys get cold,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said. “At this level, your penalty killers are on your power play as well. When you’re getting power-play time too, you’re too tired.”
The flow of players to the penalty box became a flood during this weekend’s series between the Rush and Arizona Sundogs.
In Friday’s 4-2 win, the Rush gave up eight power plays, but held the Sundogs scoreless on all but a late goal when Arizona pulled its goaltender for the extra attacker, giving the Sundogs a 6-on-4 man advantage.
On Saturday, the Sundogs wracked up 66 of 106 total penalty minutes, as Rapid City rolled to a 7-0 shutout.
Rapid City scored four times, including a power-play goal and a shorthanded tally in a the decisive second period, when stacked penalties sent as many as seven Sundogs players to the box at one time.
Frustration and fatigue can lead to even more penalties, especially at the end of a shift, said center Les Reaney, whose 31 penalty minutes are sixth most on the Rush.
“When you’re tired, the first thing that goes is your mind. Guys are battling penalties, but eight to 10 penalties a night is way too much,” he said after Friday’s game.
“I think if we’re playing hard and moving our feet, you shouldn’t need to take penalties,” said Rapid City’s leading scorer Jesse Schultz, who also leads active players with 42 penalty-minutes. “The hooking penalties and holding penalties, they happen when the guys are tired.”
Ferras said avoiding penalties is a combination of discipline and managing fatigue with time on the ice.
“A lot of our penalties we get at the end of our shifts. We’re staying out too long and it just wears your hockey club down, especially with the system we run. It’s a lot of hard work on our penalty kill,” Ferras said. “In order for a team to be successful and not be going uphill all the time, you want to be a team that plays between the whistles.”
Some penalties, however, a team has to take.
“If you make the big hit and your hands get up a little too high, you’ll kill those penalties. If a guy’s got a chance to score and you take him down, you’ll kill those, but not (penalties) in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone,” Ferras said.
Even with Rapid City’s special-teams success this weekend, Ferras said the Rush are committing too many penalties.
“We’ve got to tighten up,” he said. “You look at the games we lost against Fort Wayne. Power-play goals and shorthanded goals, special teams killed us two times. Eventually teams will wear your down.”
“We have to concentrate on things that are legal and not going to put us in the box,” Schultz said.
That includes arguing calls with a referee.
“I think we’re getting better at staying off the referees,” Schultz said. “You can’t get worked up. The call’s made, you go out and kill the penalty and move on. We got lots of practice at that.”