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Gophers hockey assistant Bell leaves to scout for Maple Leafs

When faced with the option of a contract expiring next spring or leaving for a multi-year deal, Scott Bell opted for longer job security.

Bell, a Gophers assistant men’s hockey coach last season and former team captain, has left the program to join the scouting staff of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Bell was retained as an assistant when new head coach Bob Motzko was hired to replace Don Lucia in late March, but Bell’s contract with the Gophers ran only through the 2018-19 season.

“There was a lot of uncertainty with Bob coming in, and he never expressed to me that I’d be there going forward,’’ said Bell, 47. “NHL teams found that out, and I had a few teams show some interest.

“I was planning on staying with the Gophers and fulfilling my contract, and then Toronto came back at me with an excellent offer. It was like, ‘Well, I can go on a multi-year contract or stay on a multi-month contract.’ It was a difficult decision because I love the university.’’

Before joining the Gophers for the 2017-18 season, Bell, a two-year Minnesota captain in the mid-1990s, spent the previous five years as a scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was instrumental in the Penguins drafting Jake Guentzel, who scored a combined 23 goals in the past two playoff seasons.

Bell said he’ll have a bigger role with Toronto than he had with Pittsburgh. He will remain based in Minnesota.

“I’ll probably have more responsibility with the top 60 draft list, probably have more of an expanded role,’’ he said.

The interest in Bell from NHL didn't catch Motzko off-guard.

"It's not a surprise that he had a handful of teams coming after him,'' Motzko said. "He was an excellent scout for Pittsburgh, and he's a big-time recruiter. It's a great opportunity for him, and obviously we wish him the best.'' 

Bell’s departure creates an opening on Motzko’s staff. The new coach didn’t retain associate head coach Mike Guentzel, who like Bell interviewed for the Gophers head coaching job. Motzko filled one assistant job with his former St. Cloud State assistant Garrett Raboin. Motzko said he'll take his time in filling the position.

"We're sure not in a hurry today, but also we've got one month before the start of school,'' Motzko said. "I haven't reached out to a single soul yet, and I want to take a little time on this and gather all our thoughts before moving forward. ... I believe there are a lot of great candidates we can get for this job.''

NCAA reverses ruling: College hockey conferences can keep overtime formats

Three-on-three overtime and shootouts will remain in men’s and women’s college hockey in 2018-19 after the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel on Thursday approved a proposal that would allow conferences to use one of two formats to award points in their standings after a mandatory five-minute, five-on-five sudden-death overtime period.

If a game remains tied after the five-on-five OT period, conferences can end a game in one of three ways:

** Declare the game a tie. This is what Hockey East, the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey used this past season.

** Go directly to a shootout. This is the model the Big Ten used in 2017-18. 

** Play five minutes of three-on-three sudden-death overtime, then use a shootout if the score remains tied. This is the system that the NCHC and WCHA uses.

The Big Ten has yet to decide on its overtime/shootout format for the 2018-19 season. But if it was up to new Gophers coach Bob Motzko, the conference would add five minutes of three-on-three OT and then to go to a shootout if needed.

"I'm glad the NCAA went back to where they are now. Three-on-three in the regular season, I know the players enjoy it. They have a blast with it,'' said Motzko, who had experience with that format as St. Cloud State's coach during NCHC games. "... Fans and the players want to play it, and it is part of hockey now in almost every league. It should be there.''

Motzko added that the Big Ten coaches will have a conference call in the next couple of weeks to determine the format that will be used. "I don't know the consensus of the coaches in our league, but we'll get to the bottom of it and see where it goes,'' Motzko said.

Games decided after the five-on-five OT still would be considered a tie for NCAA tournament selection purposes, and Motzko doesn't want the three-on-three or shootout results to influence NCAA selection. "I want the PairWise [Ratings] to stop at five-on-five,'' he said. "The process we have to make the tournament is excellent. Let's not mess with that.''

The NCAA’s Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Rules Committee in June approved a standard format of five minutes of sudden death five-on-five overtime. If neither team scored in OT, the game would be declared a tie. But push-back from the NCHC and WCHA in the comment period prompted the rules committee to reconsider and return to the status quo last week. Approval by the oversight panel, which was expected, made the rules official.

"Sometimes, we have to do things like this that fans and players want,'' Motzko said. "... If it doesn't lead to a goal [in three-on-three OT], there are chances galore. It is fun to sit back and watch.''

Both the NCHC and WCHA commissioners welcomed the NCAA’s reconsideration last week.

“This is terrific news for the WCHA,’’ WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson said. “[3-on-3 overtime] has been immensely popular. … Eliminating the 3-on-3 and shootout would have been a step back for college hockey.’’

Said NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton: “We’re certainly excited. … It’s not only great for fans … but it’s also great for the student-athletes.’’

The three-on-three OT and shootout options would not apply to nonconference regular-season games, and a game would end in a tie after the traditional five-minute overtime.

In regular-season tournaments that require advancement, a 20-minute sudden death format can be implemented for overtime, instead of the traditional five-minute overtime period. These tournaments also may use the three-on-three and shootout or the stand-alone shootout format.

The NCAA, in its news release, also announced these following rules changes:

Other rules changes approved include the following:  

** Allowing the use of video review in situations where ejecting a player is being considered. Because such calls are critical and officials must currently make these determinations after viewing the play in real time, the Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Committee believes this change will be a positive.

** A redefining of slashing. The approved change states: “Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, should be penalized as slashing.”

** For a substitution to be legal, the player coming off the ice must be within 5 feet of the bench before the substitute may contact the ice.

** In overtime games, each team will have one timeout to use in overtime, regardless of whether a timeout was used during regulation play.

**The number of skaters allowed on each team will be increased to 19 (the current rule allows up to 18).

** A player who catches the puck must immediately place it on the ice for play to continue legally. If a player catches and conceals or throws the puck, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

** To reduce the number of video review situations, coaches must use a challenge to review goals scored where a potential high stick is involved or plays where the puck touches the netting out of play and leads to a goal.