Fact or fiction: College hockey players and third graders share
many traits.

Mira Levitan
Freshmen Matt Hunwick (top) and Mike Brown (bottom) will likely be sent to the penalty box for being naughty after this fight against Western Michigan two weeks ago. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)


At first glance, it might seem odd to compare players to a bunch
of young schoolchildren. But the two groups have at least one thing
in common — when they act inappropriately, they can be sent
to take a “timeout.”

The hockey version of this punishment consists of being sent to
the penalty box.

“It’s the sin-bin,” defender Brandon Rogers
said with a sly grin on his face. “You don’t want to
spend too much time there.”

“You just hope (the other team) doesn’t
score,” said alternate captain Eric Nystrom of being in the
penalty box. “When they do score, it’s the longest
skate across the ice you could possibly take.”

The term “sin-bin” shows how most people view a trip
to the penalty box — the offending player is going there to
pay his dues for wrongdoings against a member of the other team.
Such a conclusion is correct on a technical level.

But there are also situations where a trip to the penalty box
can be seen as a positive thing.

“There’s such a thing as a good penalty and a bad
penalty,” associate head coach Mel Pearson said.
“Usually a good penalty is where you’re preventing a
scoring chance. It’s somewhere near your net where you have
to take a penalty, maybe, so a guy doesn’t get a great
opportunity to score.

“A bad penalty might be when you take one in your own
offensive zone, like 200 feet from your net.”

Fighting seems to fall into the “bad” category, but
this is not entirely true.

“(Fighting) can bring a team closer together because
you’re standing up for each other and you’re willing to
put yourself on the line,” Pearson said.

Said Rogers: “If your teammate’s ever in trouble or
(the other team) hit the goalie and hurt him, then there’s
going to be some payback,”

Nystrom noted that, in the end, the ultimate result of a penalty
is out of the hands of any player or coach.

“If it’s an honest penalty, if it prevents a goal
for some reason, the hockey gods make your teammates kill it
off,” Nystrom said.

“When you take a bad penalty, for some reason they always

Michigan’s team statistics show that defenders tend to
spend more time between the glass walls than forwards. Defenders
have averaged 26:26 penalty minutes per person so far this season,
while offensive players have averaged just 17:52 minutes a

These figures would also be further apart if a fight had not
occurred during the Western Michigan game on Jan. 24, resulting in
10-minute major penalties for two Michigan forwards — junior
forward Michael Woodford and freshman forward Mike Brown.

Junior forward Dwight Helminen attributed this difference in
penalty minutes to the personalities that the two positions
(defenders and forwards) take on the ice.

“If you’re a guy who has the puck a lot or is
attacking a lot, you’re not likely to get penalties just
because you’re on the attack,” Helminen said.
“The guy defensively is trying to shut you down, so
he’s got more of a chance of taking a penalty.”

Helminen is great example of this. The Brighton native is fifth
on the team with seven goals and he has yet to take a penalty.

Freshman defender Matt Hunwick, on the other hand, has yet to
score and leads the team with 44 penalty minutes.

“The tendency seems to be (that) the more aggressive you
are, the more penalties you’re going to take,” Pearson
said. “(Helminen) is an aggressive player, but he
doesn’t take a lot of penalties because he uses his

In the end, the fact remains that no team wants to be a man down
in any situation. Pearson said that the coaches usually spend a few
hours a week dealing with penalties and devote a few minutes on
each gameday talking about discipline.

He also noted that learning to take penalties is not something
that a player is simply able to do the minute he steps on the ice
as a freshman.

“I think you have to coach (about taking
penalties),” Pearson said. “They’re not used to
it. Sometimes they come from junior hockey, which can be a pretty
rough game.

“I also think the freshmen sometimes get picked on within
the league. The officials know who the freshmen are, and
they’re trying to set an example.”

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