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Fraser: Mike Brown's major and the controversial face-off

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Kerry Fraser
2/28/2013 1:52:49 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!

Hey Kerry,
 
I am wondering - would you have given Mike Brown a five-minute major like he was assessed in the first period? Fans have seen a lot worse hits and only two minutes were assessed. Can you please give us your thought on this?
 
Thank you,
Mike Laughlin
 
Mike,

I fully endorse protecting players from reckless and dangerous hits. Providing player safety is the most important responsibility that a referee has as far as I am concerned. The rules are crafted in such a way so the referees can utilize their best judgment to differentiate between varying degrees of violence and force that result from illegal hits. The language and spirit of a rule are key components in distinguishing which rule best applies in a given situation.

As we examine the check that Leaf tough guy Mike Brown delivered on Josh Gorges, Brown's actions did not fall under the language or spirit of Rule 43 — Checking from behind. It was my opinion as I watched the game that, while I had no problem with the five-minute time penalty assessed to Brown, it should have been deemed boarding. Brown should not have been ejected from the game. Let me explain why.

While Boarding (Rule 41) and Checking from Behind (Rule 42) are only one number apart in the rule book, there are distinct differences in the criteria for their assessment. A check from behind is delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. (Primary target being the numbers on the back of the sweater.)
 
As the puck was dumped into Gorges' corner, the first Leaf fore-checker was Brown, who Gorges was fronting and had made a visual connection with. Gorges quickly turned and a race for the puck in the corner ensued with Brown.  Even as both players got near the goal-line, Gorges was aware of an impending hit.

What Gorges wasn't expecting was the finishing push from Brown that placed him off balance and accelerated his speed, causing the Montreal defenceman to fall hard and awkwardly into the end boards. It is also important to note that Brown made contact with Gorges' right hip and then finished with the push to his right side.

Since Gorges was aware of the possibility that an impending hit could result, combined with the fact that contact initiated by Brown was not to the back of Gorges body, Rule 43 for checking from behind (plus the automatic game misconduct) did not apply.

Given the player's distance from the end boards where contact was initiated, combined with the extra push that Brown applied on the hit and resulted in Gorges being thrown violently into the boards, a major penalty for boarding was warranted under Rule 41.3. Since there was no injury to the face or head of Gorges, a game misconduct to Brown would not apply as per the boarding rule.

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Kerry,
 
During the Habs/Leafs game, there was a faceoff in Toronto's defensive end in the third period. The linesman dropped the puck before Tyler Bozak had his stick on the ice. It's to my understanding that both centres should have their sticks on the ice before the puck is dropped. Should the linesman not have blown the play dead once he realized Bozak was not ready for the puck drop? Or is Bozak at fault for not being ready?
 
Ryan Stark,
London

Ryan,

The integrity of the end zone face-off between Canadiens centre David Desharnais and Tyler Bozak of the Leafs was seriously compromised when the linesman dropped the puck without allowing Bozak to reset properly following some advance movement by both players. Once the puck was dropped unfairly, the linesman should have blown the whistle and exercised one of the following options:

1) Assume personal responsibility for dropping the puck prematurely when both players were not set with their sticks on the ice in the designated face-off markings following a false start by both players. The linesman would then touch his chest acknowledging it was "my bad" and allow both players to remain in the circle, reset and conduct a fair face-off.

2) After blowing the whistle to stop play as a result of the unfair face-off, the linesman could place the onus on Bozak for not having his stick down and on the marking, eject the Leafs centre and conduct a fair face-off once his replacement was properly set.

In the initial set up for this face-off, we saw Desharnais swing in hard on the first false attempt without the puck being dropped. The linesman demonstrated patience and good judgment I might add, to allow for a reset without ejecting Desharnais. Stick movement then resulted from both Desharnais and Bozak prior to the puck being dropped. Given the delay that can result from 'false starts', in this case two of them, the linesmen might have a tendency to want to get the puck down more quickly at this point to avoid further delay. As we saw Wednesday night, the integrity of the face-off was compromised and a goal resulted off the clean win of the draw by Desharnais with Bozak looking on as a spectator.

When a face-off is not conducted in a fair fashion, the very best course of action from the man in charge (the linesman) is to blow his whistle and stop play immediately. At that point, he can determine which option is the most appropriate. 

Mike Brown (Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
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