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Fraser: When the whistle should be blown on covered pucks

Kerry Fraser
3/17/2014 4:24:35 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca.

Hi Ref!

Been a long time Sens fan and stuck with them through the ups and downs. I've always liked the fact that they've made no excuses for their wins and their losses but their game with the Habs has me a tad irate with the what appears to be inconsistent calls. For example, there were a couple goalie interference calls against the Sens, like it or not, they were called, yet there were at least two non-calls for Robin Lehner being bumped including the game-tying goal at the end of regulation. I'm not even going to go on about the non-call on the dive that caused that power play.

My question is this: In the replay of the game-winning OT goal, the play moved into Ottawa's end, a shot was taken that was stopped by Lehner and the puck was in/on/around his pads. The overhead camera angle showed the puck on the ice, not covered for a few seconds and then it was jammed in.
 
Unless the referee is 35 feet tall and looking straight down at that angle, there is no way he could have even seen the puck free as the goalie had his back to him and there was a scrum of players there. Yet there was no stoppage even with the puck out of his sight for over five seconds (according to the game clock) and he later told Spezza that he didn't blow the whistle because of the noise level in the building. I would like to know if there's any disciplinary action for a referee who blows a call like that and then makes a "it's too noisy to hear the whistle" comment as an excuse?

Roger Smallman,
St. Catharines, ON
 
---
 
Hello,
 
I just wanted some clarification - I thought when the goalie has the puck covered, the ref has to blow the whistle. It's my understanding that if the goalie has the puck covered, then an opposing player cannot jam at the goalie to knock the puck loose! Is that true or not?
 
Josh Knowles
 
Roger and Josh,

Thank you for your questions following a very emotionally charged come-from-behind overtime victory by the Montreal Canadiens over the visiting Ottawa Senators. I want to share a general philosophy and understanding as to when the referee should blow the whistle.

There is a misconception by some fans that a puck must be 'frozen' for three seconds before the referee should deem it unplayable and then blow his whistle. This stems from language in Rule 85.2 when a puck falls onto the back of the goal netting and the referee is specifically directed to allow three seconds for it to be played unless the goalkeeper uses his stick or glove to freeze the puck on the back of the net, in which case the whistle is immediate. This three second application is also generally applied to determine a "frozen" puck between opposing players along the boards; although we often see the refs encourage play to continue with a non-whistle and audible command to "play it".

The philosophy employed to kill play in and around the goal crease is somewhat consistent with Rule 69 (Interference on the Goalkeeper.) This rule was formerly called "Protection of the Goalkeeper" for good reason by recognizing, in part, the vulnerability of a goalkeeper given his unique position and the obvious impairment to defend his goal that would result through player contact. As such, the referee must first determine that the goalkeeper has control and coverage of the puck prior to his intent to blow the play dead in order to avoid a quick whistle. Of equal importance, is for a ref to be aware that an attacking player(s) does not dislodge or expose a covered puck by contacting the goalkeeper with a stick or any part of the body!  
 
Rule 85.3 (puck out of sight) states that should a scramble take place or a player accidentally fall on the puck and the puck be out of sight of the Referee, he shall immediately blow his whistle to stop the play. Truth is, there are many times during a scramble that the referee loses sight of the puck but does not blow his whistle immediately while he moves in an attempt to visually locate the puck.

Every referee has had the embarrassment of blowing his whistle too quickly, only to have the puck slip through the goalies equipment and into the net causing a legitimate goal to be disallowed. Previous embarrassments such as this are always in the back of the ref's mind. To avoid the quick whistle, but also to be aware of the potential for players to dislodge a covered puck, the referee must attack the net quickly from the best angle and react quickly to potential contact of the goalkeeper.

Let's apply the above philosophies to the reality of the eventual winning goal scored by Francis Bouillon. Max Pacioretty, who was being checked by Jared Cowen, threw the puck at the Ottawa net from the bottom middle point of the end zone face-off circle to the left of goalie Robin Lehner. The shot was gobbled up in the right pad of Lehner, protected and appeared to be covered by Lehner's blocker. The referee began to drive toward the net from his initial position some 30 feet from the right post. The closest Montreal player to the net, David Desharnais, was at the bottom of the end zone face-off T some 20 feet away and positioned on the outside of Sens player Bobby Ryan. Cody Ceci approached the centre of the goal crease from 15 feet out. This distance of other players from the net creates time and space for the goalkeeper to control and cover the puck.

With all these parts of the puzzle moving quickly toward Lehner, who remained in a stationary position tight to the post with his blocker and stick down in front of the right goal pad throughout, my radar as a ref would go on high alert! The very last thing I would want to have happen is for the goalkeeper to be contacted and the puck dislodged. From the sight line the referee had at the time (and the multiple camera angles shown), I find it hard to imagine the puck was visible to him or anyone else at this point. Desharnais stepped to the inside of Ryan and jammed at Lehner with his stick and body as his momentum took the Hab forward behind the net. Ceci then made contact with the right side of his goalkeeper causing Lehner's blocker to elevate off the ice and rotate. The contact by both players altered the position of Lehner sufficiently to expose the puck in front of Lehner's pad. At this point, the puck would be clearly visible to the referee from his position closer to the net and as detected on the overhead camera shot. Pacioretty then came in hard from the side and jammed the puck outside the crease for an easy layup for Bouillon.

When players crash the crease and jam at the goalkeeper, bad things usually happen. Typically, the refs will exercise the philosophy I described above and blow the whistle in advance of any deliberate contact exerted by an attacking player. This play was allowed to continue too long without visible evidence of the puck being uncovered prior to the contact exerted by Desharnais and then Ceci. In my judgment Josh, the whistle should have blown prior to that contact.

Roger, if Stephen Walkom, Sr. V.P. of Officiating assessed this play as I did, he will review and discuss the play with the referee and make suggestions as to how a similar situation should be ruled upon in the future. There is no disciplinary action in place for officials beyond the ongoing rating and ranking system that every official is subjected to for playoff assignments and ongoing employment. One call or one game does not greatly impact the overall season performance rating of any official. Great calls are made and some are unfortunately missed. That's the human element of the job.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser


Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.


Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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