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We break from the C'mon Ref mailbag for a day to answer an interesting question asked of me last night @kfraserthecall on Twitter.
What's your view on officials calling a penalty on Bryce Salvadore after watching the replay on the arena screen? It appeared there was a high stick, but it wasn't called. Fans were loud, refs watched video, then made the call. Devils coach Peter DeBoer went nuts.
Thank you for providing this question. It is somewhat unusual, but certainly not impossible for a penalty to be changed following a conference held amongst the on-ice officials. Based on the reaction of Peter DeBoer, his players on the bench and commentary on both broadcast feeds, a perception in varying degrees existed that the call was changed only after the officials viewed the replay on the scoreboard in the Wells Fargo Center. We will never know for certain if the 'smoking gun' was handed to the officials courtesy of the replay.
I have a different take on the situation following the immediate support that was provided to young referee Mark Lemelin by his colleagues in a conference once it became apparent the wrong player (Steve Downie of the Flyers) was being sent to the penalty box. I believe this was going to take place irrespective of anyone who might have snuck a peak at the Jumbotron on the way to this meeting of the minds!
In fairness to the young referee, his assignments are split between the AHL and NHL. Things happen much more quickly in the NHL and it can be baptism under fire once any player or official moves up to this ultimate level of the game. There is something to be learned from every game worked and experience is a great teacher.
On this play the young referee correctly raised his arm for a delayed high-sticking penalty when Matt Read of the Flyers clipped Bryce Salvadore on the side of the head while delivering a body check on the Devils player against the boards in front of the penalty box. Following the impact of the check, Salvadore's stick came up and caught Downie in the face as the Flyer approached from the frontal position. In effect there were two high sticking infractions that occurred almost simultaneously on the same play.
Lemelin however was looking through the back of Downie from a considerable distance in the end zone and did not see Salvadore's stick strike the Flyer forward. Not yet all that familiar with NHL team personnel, he mistook Downie for Read in the quickness of the play and the close proximity of the three players. Once play was stopped, the ref approached Salvadore to see if any injury resulted from the "Matt Read" high stick. Mistakenly, the ref then imposed the penalty to Steve Downie who was also rubbing his face and checking to see if he had all his teeth following the high stick he received from Salvadore.
From the player's bench side it would have been obvious to the other officials (and the teams) that it was Downie that was struck by the stick of Salvadore. Once it was announced that Downie was assessed the penalty, a quick conference was convened by the other members of the crew to straighten out the confusion. What was lost in the correction process was the initial high-stick that the young ref correctly signaled when Salvadore was struck with Read's stick. I am certain it happened in a flash and a blur in the Lemelin's eye and mind. Once it was brought to his attention by the other officials that Downie took a stick in the face the young ref would question his initial take on the play and defer to the senior members of the crew. That is the most logical way that this situation played out.
That being said, we often see a camera shot of a coach on the bench pointing up to a replay on the big screen when he feels the official has blown a call. In that example the coach has no problem using the replay to his benefit even though the call won't likely be changed. The officials don't skate around the ice with horse blinders on so I'm not saying the temptation to peak at the Jumbotron is out of the question when they grope with getting a call right. As long as the League allows in-house replays, who could blame any of the officials if they happened to skate to the conference with their head held high - you never know what's playing at a theatre near you!