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Fraser: The minutes handed out in the Voracek-Oleksy fight

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Kerry Fraser
4/1/2013 2:55:28 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 love the column and look forward to it every day, and I was wondering if you could provide some insight on a call in Sunday's Flyers/Capitals game. A few minutes into the third period, Claude Giroux was hit (cleanly) by the Capitals' Steven Oleksy. It appears that Giroux's linemate Voracek skates over and gives Oleksy a slight crosscheck and presumably a few words, and Oleksy responds with a jab to Voracek's face. After that, it looks like Oleksy drops the gloves first and initiates the actual fight. At the end of it all, the referees gave both players five for fighting, but they tacked on 14 minutes of penalties (two for instigating, two for instigating with a visor and a 10 minute misconduct) for Voracek.
 
Perhaps my interpretation of this is colored a bit by the two players' histories and reputations - Oleksy is a career minor-leaguer who is no stranger to dropping the gloves while Voracek is a first-line player who had never been in a fight in a regular-season NHL game before tonight - but after watching the replay multiple times, it really does seem like while Voracek skates over, Oleksy initiates the actual fight.
 
With that in mind, I was wondering what might cause officials to give Voracek the extra 14 here, instead of either just giving five to each player, or perhaps giving Voracek an extra two (I know they can't just give a two-minute instigator, but surely they could give him two for roughing or cross-checking and call it a day). Anyway, I look forward to your interpretation!
 
Thanks,
Sean Janda

Sean:

Thank you for visiting C'mon Ref every day. While a Referee should always be aware of the personnel that are on the ice relative to their style of play and the "reputation" they might have established it is the specific act that must be ruled upon. I have seen many times when players have stepped outside of their usual role and come to the aid of their teammate as Jakub Vorachek did on Sunday.

There has always been a sensitivity issue when a star player is body checked by an opponent in any fashion. Clean body checks such as the one delivered by Steve Olesky on Claude Giroux often draw a member of the cavalry or in some cases a full scale mounted assault.

The language contained in the instigator rule (46.1) provides wide latitude for the Referees to differentiate between a mutually agreed upon fight and one where a player is often forced to defend himself against retribution for a previous incident in the game. (Distance travelled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season can be taken into account for the purpose of determining the instigator of an altercation.)

Sometimes a quick response by the player attacked to defend himself can result in his opponent receiving an instigator penalty as I believe we can point to in this case between Vorachek and Olesky. I'll explain at the end.

We should all agree that the open ice body check delivered by Steve Olesky was clean and fully within the rules. Play continued following the hit and the puck was well beyond Olesky's personal space. Jackob Vorachek skated a distance and purposely engaged Olesky from behind by shoving the Caps player in a cross-check motion. Steve Olesky, who as you suggest is no stranger to fisticuffs, felt the need to turn, drop his gloves and defend himself against Vorachek.

Once the fight spontaneously combusted it was appropriately determined by the Referee that Jakub Vorachek was guilty of instigating the altercation based on the distance he travelled with a menacing attitude or posture (cross-check) in retaliation/retribution for a previous incident in the game (legal body check on Giroux). The fight would not have taken place in that moment if Vorachek had not initiated and engaged Olesky in this manner.

Had some separation of space occurred following the cross-check and resulted in a time delay where the two players squared off it might have been deemed a mutually agreed upon fight with an extra minor penalty assessed to Vorachek for cross-checking.

Many times I have seen a player come to the aid of a teammate or initiate a fight in a much 'cagier' fashion without incurring an instigator penalty. Stu Grimson and Jim McKenzie come to mind as two of the best in this department. While they might have travelled a similar or even greater distance than Vorachek they were more discreet in their application of the rules of engagement.  Players that slide alongside their opponent with synchronized motion and 'whisper' a more private invitation with perhaps a tap on the shin pad are less likely to incur an instigator penalty once a 'mutually agreed upon' fight results.

The fact that Steve Olesky immediately responded by dropping his gloves to defend himself once he was engaged by Jacub Vorachek from behind prevented the normal rules of engagement from being considered.

Jakub Voracek (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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