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Fraser: Guidelines on what a linesman can or cannot call

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Kerry Fraser
11/18/2011 6:20:04 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!

Mr. Fraser,
 
Late during the Avalanche and Wild game tonight there was a high-sticking incident that went unnoticed by the referees. As Cal Clutterbuck was falling to the ice near the boards he swung his stick and clipped Jay McClement. As I have already stated, it went unnoticed by the referees, but apparently not the linesman.
 
The play with Clutterbuck and McClement occurred directly in front of one of the linesman who was looking (or so it seemed anyways) directly at the infraction that Clutterbuck committed, but no penalty was called. I know there are certain circumstances where linesmen can assist the referee in making a call (too many men, delay of game, etc), but what is the guideline that defines those circumstances? It is frustrating as a fan (especially tonight as an Avs fan) to see a linesman stare at a player while they commit a penalty, but cannot do anything about it.
 
Thanks,
Jake Travis
Rusagonis, New Brunswick

 
Jake:

Rule 32.4 allows the linesman to stop play and report to the referee "when it is apparent that an injury resulted from a high-stick that has gone undetected by the Referees and requires the assessment of a double-minor penalty."

Linesman Michel Cormier clearly observed Cal Clutterbuck's errant stick that clubbed Jay McClement in the head as Clutterbuck finished his check.  Cormier immediately moved off his position on the boards and is seen checking out McClement for any evidence of injury. None was to be found.

Fortunately for Jay McClement, his helmet and visor took the direct impact of the blow from Clutterbuck's stick and saved him from being cut or worse.  Since no injury could be detected by the linesman, Cormier had no alternative but to allow play to continue. 

On the ensuing rush up ice, Devin Setoguchi scored his 6th goal of the season from Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu to win the game for the Wild. Following Setoguchi's goal, the camera panned to Jay McClement on the Avs' bench.  There was no visible evidence of injury to his face.

Michel Cormier did exactly what is called for under the rules and since linesmen are unable to assess a two minute penalty for high-sticking, it becomes a missed or uncalled infraction. Here's why the coverage on the play broke down.

When Jay McClement chipped the puck into the Wild end zone from in front of the players' bench, the visual focus of the lead referee shifted too quickly from the puck carrier (McClement) and into the Wild end zone where two Minnesota defensemen turned to retrieve the puck behind the Wild net.

Since Colorado had not yet established pressure on the fore-check, the lead referee (positioned across the ice and inside the Minnesota blue line) should have remained focused on the finish of the check that was being delivered by Cal Clutterbuck

The other referee trailing the play on the same side of the ice as the hit was primarily responsible for the action away from the puck so his focus was elsewhere at the point of contact.

This transition created a gap in coverage when neither referee was focused on Cal Clutterbuck.  As a result the high-sticking infraction was missed. 

To avoid gaps of coverage when play transitions, the referees must communicate their individual responsibility so that one of them is focused on the finishing of a check and not following the path of the puck.

The reality of the situation is that things happen fast out there and on occasion infractions are missed. Refs are human and mistakes are made.

This explanation might be of little consolation for the frustration you felt over the Avalanche loss.  I trust, however, that it provides you with some understanding as to why the linesman was unable to assess a penalty on the play and how this type of call can go undetected.

Cal Clutterbuck (Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
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