The Whyte Stuff: The hockey rule book should be black and white, no gray
Recently, I was coaching in a local tournament here in Arizona where a very controversial call was made that put my team in a difficult position.
We ended up losing the game, but it was not the officials’ fault. Our loss was due to blowing a two-goal lead, which was clearly on a few key mental breakdowns.
This column, however, is to address the inconsistency in one rule that should be considered black and white.
In layman’s terms, here is the game situation:
Our team was down by a goal. We pulled our goalie late in the game to attempt to score the tying goal. The puck was in our own end and one of our players cleared it to the neutral zone. As the opposing defenseman retrieved the puck at his own blue line, his teammate yelled “empty net.” He spun around and shot the puck the over everyone’s head and into the empty net. They still had two players in our zone, which would make it off-side and the goal nullified.
The linesman immediately blew the whistle and waved the goal off, which was the right call. I yelled from the bench that the faceoff should be in the other team’s end, due to a player intentionally shooting a puck on net when he still has players in our zone, as that is the rule. The officials ruled that the faceoff would be in the neutral zone where the player shot the puck.
When I finally got the referee’s attention and explained the rule, he conversed with his linesmen. He told me that the player didn’t intentionally shoot the puck at the net, which meant the faceoff would be in the neutral zone.
If the player would have missed the net, it would have been icing, and the faceoff would be in their own end. If we had a goalie in the net, and he had to make a save, it would have been blown down instantly, and there should be a faceoff in the opposing zone.
So why is it that when we pull the goalie, it is not considered intentional?
Conversely, later that day during our second game, we had the same incident occur. This time, our goalie was still in the net, and when the opposing player shot the puck down the ice and on our net, they still had players in our zone. The linesman blew his whistle for the off-side and motioned his arm, indicating that the faceoff would be in the opposing team’s end. Less than 10 hours later, the interpretation of the rule had changed.
Rules like this, and there are countless others, have too much gray in them. The more we can establish definitive parameters in our rule book, the smoother games will be played out.
I fully understand that being an official is a difficult task; I was one for years. Knowing the rules and reacting in an instant can be tricky, but once the call is made and a discussion is had, the rule should be enforced accordingly. The fact that these officials ignored the details and continued with the wrong call is where the frustration creeps in.
Once again, this column is not to say that we lost because of officiating. It is merely attempting to shine light on the necessity to find consistency in the determination of the rules USA Hockey deems we play by. Hockey is a game of mistakes made by everyone, including players, coaches and officials. The more we continue to be educated and dedicated to making this sport a better game, the more it will grow and be enjoyed by many.
The more black and white we can make it, the better the game will be.
Sean Whyte is the director of hockey operations and coach-in-chief at DYHA.