Fraser: The call on Bourque's empty net goal

Kerry Fraser
10/27/2011 5:15:50 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Hi Kerry, I have something of a technical question for you.

During the Colorado-Calgary game on Wednesday night, Calgary had a 3-2 lead, and with the clock ticking down, Colorado goalie J. S. Giguere headed to the bench for an extra attacker. Calgary's Rene Bourque found himself on a clear-cut breakaway with an empty net in front of him, but before he could shoot the puck into the gaping cage, he was tripped from behind by a Colorado player.

The referee signaled a penalty but the play continued. Calgary's Olli Jokinen then collected the puck and put it in the net. However, it was ruled that because Bourque had been on an empty-net breakaway, he was automatically awarded the goal - his second of the night.

My question is: if that's the rule, then why was the play allowed to continue after the ref had already decided it was a trip, and therefore an automatically-awarded goal?  Shouldn't the ref have immediately blown his whistle, stopped play, and awarded the goal?  This situation is unlike any other delayed penalty, where allowing the fouled team to continue play could be to their benefit.  All this did was confuse the fans, who clearly saw Jokinen score a goal that wound up being credited to Bourque.

What's the rationale behind this?

Joey Lindstrom
Calgary, AB


'Technically Speaking,' play should have been immediately stopped by referee Don Van Massenhoven under rule 57.4 and a goal awarded to Rene Bourque. Let me give you a "play-by-play" possibility from within the referee's helmet as to perhaps why the whistle didn't immediately blow.

All aspects of this play directly applied to the language of the rule.  Bourque, who was 'in control of the puck, in the neutral or attacking zone with no opposition between him and the opposing goal and when goalkeeper J.S. Giguere had been removed from the ice, was tripped or otherwise fouled by Colorado defenceman, Kyle Quincey thus preventing a reasonable scoring opportunity.' 

Referee Van Massenhoven immediately raised his arm to identify the infraction and I fully believe was prepared to kill the play and award the goal but instead allowed Bourque to push the puck from his knees toward the gaping cage. Once the puck hit the side of the goal frame and prior to Olli Jokinen depositing the puck in the net, Van Massenhoven is clearly visible blowing his whistle and motioning into the net to award a goal to Rene Bourque. With the 'award,' Bourque (who hails from Lac La Biche, Alberta) notched his second goal of the contest and fifth of the season. (I just love the name of that town and had to share it with you!)

So why would referee Van Massenhoven delay the call to allow Rene Bourque the unnecessary courtesy of sliding the puck over the goal line? I've been in the same situation and did exactly the same thing that Van Mass did last night.

While my rational might appear as 'creative finance' to you, my thought process in that moment was to allow an extra second or two for the fouled player to finish the play on his own. He fought hard to put himself in that position and the thrill of "denting the twine" and the celebration that follows the scoring a goal is part of our hockey culture and history of the game.  While the end result will be the same (a goal) I wanted let the player to have his moment to shine in front of the fans and not impose myself in that instant.  Perhaps even subconsciously, I hoped to avoid any need to explain why a goal was going up on the clock when the puck never entered the net since this type of play doesn't happen very often. Put the puck in the net and any questions are eliminated.

While offering you my honest account of this thought process I am prepared to get blasted in your blog comments for not just following the letter of the rule. After all, the rule is the rule isn't it? You're right - I'm wrong.

But since you asked, let me share with you a goal that I was about to award in 1979 in an American Hockey League game in Binghamton but instead allowed the player to put the puck in biscuit in the basket.

With a minute remaining in the game and the visiting team up by one goal the Binghamton Dusters had removed their goalkeeper for an extra skater. Binghamton turned the puck over and an attacking player had a clear breakaway on the open net. There wasn't a Duster within 60 feet and a sure goal was imminent. As the attacking player was about to cross the Binghamton blue line the Duster enforcer, who was sitting on the end of the bench and hadn't taken a shift throughout the entire game, came flying off the bench without his stick and gloves. (I was surprised the guy even had his skates laced up at that point in the game)  I thought, oh-oh, this "nut-bar" is going to jump the attacking player and start a brawl.

Just as the enforcer got within punching range of the puck handler he threw his hands in the hand and screamed - "HAAAAH"!  It surprised and likely scared the hell out of the poor guy enough to cause him to mishandle the puck. I was shocked but pleasantly surprised that a physical attack hadn't ensued. At this point I should have awarded a goal but instead I allowed the player to slide the puck into the empty cage followed by his goal scoring celebration. 

Having just completed a tour of Western Canada in September with my friends the Hanson Brothers you might think the play I just described was right out of their movie, Slap Shot. I can assure you it happened just the way I described it and is consistent with the crazy things that occurred in minor professional hockey during that era of the game.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention who that "nut bar-enforcer" from the Binghamton Dusters was. It was none other than my former colleague and friend Paul Stewart who eventually saw the error in his ways and crossed over to our other side.  Stewy worked over 1,000 games as an NHL referee and is now the Referee-in-Chief for both the men and women officials of the ECAC Division 1 hockey.  The Stew-Cat is not near as frightening in this position as he was that night in Binghamton.

And the player he tried to scare? None other than 1980 Olympic gold medal winner Dave Silk. 

Olli Jokinen (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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