Fraser: On Ovechkin's spear and Sutton's hit to the head

Kerry Fraser
12/8/2011 7:02:29 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!


In Wednesday night's game between the Caps and the Senators, Chris Neil was penalized for 'diving-unsportsmanlike conduct' when speared by Alex Ovechkin.  Why was Neil penalized and not Ovechkin?  How would you have called that incident?  Should it be further reviewed by Shanahan?

Thanks, love your column!
Melissa D'Amour

Hi Melissa:
Thank you for 'loving' this column - with a name like D'Amour, I would expect nothing less? As a Sens fan I think you will love what I would have assessed Alex Ovechkin on the play with Chris Neil.

We have seen escalated levels of embellishment and diving become problematic for the game and the referees.  I took it personally, as a referee, when a player was dishonest and attempted to cheat the game and me through embellishing marginal contact, or even in an attempt to sell a legitimate infraction when my arm was already raised.

I respected honest players like John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom , Brian Trottier from the four-time Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders. These guys (and many others like them) fought through excessive restraint that was allowed during that era of the game.

Even a natural goal scorer like Mike Bossy popped many of his 573 regular season and 85 Stanley Cup playoff goals with an opponent on his back.
While it doesn't justify the illegal restraining tactics that we allowed, their honest response to it was admirable. Through their hard work to fight through the trenches they probably received the benefit, more often than not, on penalty decisions made by the referees.

Referees are human and don't want to be taken advantage of or embarrassed.  Calling an undeserved penalty after getting fooled by a player who takes a dive is one of the worst forms of embarrassment a referee can experience; especially when the in-house replay displays the evidence. Every referee has his own personal embellishment book on known and repeat offenders.

One tell-tale sign that a 'diver' usually provides is looking toward the referee the instant contact is made; usually prior to the player even falling to the ice. Chris Neil immediately turned his head (video) toward the referee after Alex Ovechkin's stick blade entered Neil's midsection.

I can tell you that as hard-nosed a player Chris Neil is, his picture appears in the 'embellishment book' that most of the NHL referees have assembled in their mind. The penalty Chris was assessed for diving might be the result of the little boy that cried wolf too many times in the mind of the ref (In that same period, I believe Chris fell down unnaturally in an attempt to draw a penalty after being bumped in front of the Caps net by defenceman John Erskine).

All this being said, it is crucial that the referee is absolutely positive that a 'blatant' dive takes place before assessing a penalty under rule 64 - Diving/Embellishment; "Any player who blatantly dives, embellishes a fall or a reaction, or who feigns an injury shall be penalized with a minor penalty under this rule."

Ovechkin and Neil had been going hard against one another (physically and verbally) throughout the game to this point. Neil had just hit Alex with a hard, legal check in the corner. Ovechkin did a great job making the spearing gesture and contact look as though it was all part of his normal skating stride to get back up ice.

The move was swift and accurate with the point of the stick blade turned in, which allows it bury more deeply when flesh is contacted.  The referee needed the right angle to detect this surgical maneuver. It would appear that wasn't the case.

Rule 62.1 - "Spearing shall mean stabbing an opponent with the point of the stick blade, whether contact was made or not."  The rule calls for a double minor for attempting to spear but without making contact and a major penalty and game misconduct when contact has been made.

The spear delivered by Alex Ovechkin should have resulted in a major and game misconduct being assessed to the Washington Capitals superstar. Chris Neil did not deserve a diving penalty on the play; at least not this time around.

My advice to Chris Neil - in an effort to avoid calls like this from happening in the future, is to fall naturally only as a result of the action and don't turn your head toward the referee in the process. If you take my advice you just might even have your name expunged from the refs' embellishment book.

Thoughts from the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers last night:

- Andy Sutton leaves his feet and boards Alexei Ponikarovsky with the principal point of contact being the player's head (video). What are you thinking, friend? I have to wonder what the magic suspension number is going to be for you to avoid these types of dangerous hits in the future? 

I loved the hard, legal, open ice check you delivered on Jeff Skinner just prior to 17:51 of the third period.  I think you will have some time on your hands to practice that legal form of checking.

- Tim Gleason's instigator and game misconduct with less than five minutes remaining the game (automatic one game suspension and $10,000. fine to coach Kirk Muller) for his attempted attack on Andy Sutton following the legal check on Jeff Skinner.  While Gleason travelled a long distance and both players threw their gloves down this did NOT escalate into a fight!

At best a double minor to Gleason and a minor penalty to Sutton for roughing would have been appropriate (A 10-minute misconduct could have been tagged onto Gleason's double minor but wouldn't make a difference at that point in the game other than cosmetic).

The right thing for Brendan Shanahan to do would be to rescind the instigator and game misconduct in this case. No suspension or fine should result. 

Chris Neil (Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)


(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)
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