Fraser: Why Grabovski didn't get penalized on Monday night

Kerry Fraser

10/25/2011 2:16:58 PM

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Hi Kerry,
After the Pronger-Grabovski incident on Monday, I must ask - why is it that a player has to have control of his stick at all times EXCEPT WHEN HE'S TAKING A SHOT?!

Michael Egan


Kerry, we saw Pronger almost lose an eye last night because of a high stick from Mikhail Grabovski. Why is this not a penalty? Players are told they are supposed to be in control of their stick at all times. Grabovski was tagged for high sticking in the same game for a high stick at a faceoff. What is the difference?

Al Chop

Michael and Al:

I attended the game in Philadelphia last night and we could hear Chris Pronger's shriek all the way up in the press box when Mikhail Grabovski's stick accidentally struck Chris in the eye on the follow through of his shot.  The reaction that followed had everyone holding their breath as Pronger bolted off the ice in pain and obvious fear for the potential loss of his sight.

Once the replay was shown on the giant score clock high above center ice the Flyers faithful assembled 19,569 strong, voiced their overwhelming displeasure that no penalty call resulted.  I immediately delivered a note to the Flyers Radio broadcast booth where my friends Tim Saunders, play-by-play announcer along with analyst and former Flyers star defenseman, Chris Therien were calling the game. Even though they had the call right on the initial play, Tim invited me on the broadcast to share with their listeners why no penalty was deserved on the play.  Let me share those insights with you as well.

Michael and Al both correctly note in their question that "players must be in control of their sticks" as quoted from rule 60.1 High-sticking.  I must point out that immediately following this statement the rule continues with, "However, a player is permitted accidental contact on an opponent if the act is committed as a normal windup or
follow through of a shooting motion…"  It doesn't get any clearer as to why a penalty was NOT assessed to Grabovski on the play or even deserved.

Mikhail Grabovski got to a loose puck in a shooting lane in advance Chris Pronger. At the moment Grabovski released the shot Pronger attempted a poke check on the shooter.

The puck left ‘Grabo's' stick a fraction of a second prior to Pronger's active stick made contact with the shooters blade. The stick to stick deflection exacerbated the normal follow through and resulted in contacted to the eye of the 6'5" defenseman. While no penalty is deserved under the rules on this play the good news is that Chris Pronger's injury is not as serious as initially anticipated. It appears Chris will return to action in ten days to two weeks. Thank goodness for that.   

The onus placed upon players being in control of their sticks is obvious. We moved from the 1970's and ‘80's where a stick was quite often held out (and up) to defend against the finish of a check by an opponent. I often heard it said from one player to another, "Unless you are a beaver and can eat wood you're not going to get me!"

I recall Archie Henderson (NHL linesman, Don Henderson's brother), while playing in the I.H.L. for the Pt. Huron Flags in the 1978-79 season, drag the puck between his skates in the corner of the rink and with his stick extended like a spear from his 6'6", 220 pound frame defy his opponents to come and take the puck from him! Big Archie didn't receive any takers. (Check out Bob Probert vs Archie Henderson on YouTube.)

I saw stick fights in those days where players stood back and turned the points of their stick blades over and hacked at one another with wood chopping proficiency. Match penalties were assessed and in most cases rather minimal suspensions were imposed. One of the most celebrated of these types of events was in a pre-season game in 1969-70 between Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues and Ted Green of the Boston Bruins. The stick fight resulted in a skull fracture to Green in addition to a 13 game suspension. Maki was suspended for 30 days; both believed to be excessive suspensions for the time from NHL President Clarence Campbell.

I will participate in an NHL Oldtimers' Tour with six games throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan from November 16-23rd and will join former Detroit Red Wing tough guy Dennis Polonich on the tour. ‘Polo' was the victim of a baseball swing to his face by Wilf Paiement of the Colorado Rockies in October of 1978 that not only altered his face but his career. Paiement was suspended for 15 games in what some would say is the most violent attack ever committed in an NHL game.

The League moved forward to extricate stick work from the game and implemented an automatic 5 minute major and game misconduct for high-sticking (deemed accidental contact or careless) when an injury resulted to the face or head of an opponent.  This was subsequently downgraded to the double minor that we now see because star players were ejected from playoff games through accidental contact that resulted in cuts to their opponent's head.  It really was excessive for accidental contact. The bottom line is that players got the message, the sticks came down and the onus is clearly placed upon the player for being responsible for his stick.

Even if a player, having been body checked, and in the act of falling strikes an opponent with his stick above the shoulders a high-sticking penalty will result. This standard would be enforced even in a case where Player "A" of Detroit legally body checks Player "B" of Colorado.  In the act of a natural fall backwards as a result of the check, Player "B's" stick strikes Player "C" of Detroit above the shoulders who was skating up from behind the hit and clearly out of the view of Player "B."  There was no intent on the part of Player "B" or even knowledge that Player "C" was within range of being hit but the onus in on Player "B" to be responsible for his stick even through the natural act of his fall!

As you now see, there is only one exception to the high-sticking rule and that applied in Philadelphia last night. We all wish Chris Pronger a full and speedy recovery from the legal follow through of Mikhail Grabovski's shot.