Fraser: Was there an instigator in Phaneuf-Clarkson fight?

Kerry Fraser

2/22/2012 6:21:20 PM

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Hello Kerry,

In the first period of Tuesday's Leafs-Devils game, Dion Phaneuf goes into the corner with Zach Parise.  The first hit by Phaneuf on Parise is a hockey play. The puck moves down the boards, then Phaneuf lays another hit on Parise. The shoulder (if not the forearm) move up and into the jaw of Parise. Why no call for at least interference, if not a hit to the head?



Hi Kerry,

I want to discuss with you last night's game between the Leafs and Devils - more specifically when Dion Phaneuf checked Zach Parise and then was "challenged" by Clarkson to a fight. This, in my opinion, was an instigator penalty and should have been assessed as an instigator penalty. Clarkson came off the bench, skated straight toward the Leaf player with the intention of fighting Phaneuf! I really would like to hear your take on this.

Thank you,

Tony Attisano


Gary and Tony:

The first body contact that Dion Phaneuf put on Zach Parise was legal - the second blow delivered where the head was the principal point of contact was not and worthy of a penalty under Rule 48 (Illegal check to the head). Even though Parise comes off the boards from the first body contact and drops his position slightly, Phaneuf's target of contact is high. As Phaneuf straightens up and leads with the shoulder cap, the principal point of contact becomes the head of Parise.

This penalty was missed because referee Paul Devorski was forced around the wall toward the net on the play.  As a result, his head was turned away from Parise and Phaneuf when contact was made.

For all of the referees reading this article, please do your very best to stay out of the area that the referee ventured into on this play. Deem it "no man's land" where nothing good can result if you remain in this location as opposed to just passing through.

You should always attempt to set yourself in advance of a play where you can draw the best sightline. Simply put, that is away from player traffic and an area that is generally least occupied. Remember this premise; "players attack the puck - referees retreat from the puck."

Think about the highest traffic areas in the end zone where player battles typically occur: deep in the corner on a dump-in (where Phaneuf first contacted Parise). On a battle for puck possession in this area, there is also player support that can come from behind the net and down the wall. The worst place to move is toward the net and against the end boards. Inevitably, backdoor pressure will box you in and you become entangled in the action. When caught up in the action with players, the ref enters survival mode to avoid taking a hit. From this position, he cannot view the action because he becomes part of it!

A referee's best course of action is to read the play in advance, anticipate where the battle will result and from which direction(s) player support will come. To accomplish this objective, a referee must know where all other players are on the ice in the moment - no puck watching is allowed! Know where they want to go and how quickly it will take for them to get there (speed/time/distance). If the ref is in that area, he better move in advance of the attacking cavalry.

 Generally, the best location to view the action is up the wall toward the hash marks. If the lane is clear behind the net and the ref can move well in advance of the impending battle in the corner, he can assume a safe location on the opposite side of the net. Should he take that option, the ref must make this move with rapid foot speed in a backward skating motion to keep all players converging to the area of confrontation within his sightline/view.
When the referee down low adjusts his position to avoid traffic (or gets caught up in traffic and placed in a vulnerable position), the other ref must immediately move and focus on the action to support his partner in order to pick up a missed infraction.

Enough Referee Positioning-101 for the time being. Let's talk instigator.
There have been 791 fighting majors assessed to this point in the NHL season. An instigator has been identified just 30 times and assessed a penalty under Rule 46.11. (An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his distance travelled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.)

(A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and ten-minute misconduct.)

As the rule is written, David Clarkson was clearly the instigator of his fight with Dion Phaneuf when he came off the player's bench on a line change and went directly to Phaneuf to provoke a fight. Clarkson violated key components of the instigator rule in doing so.

A minor penalty was assessed to Clarkson for roughing. Even though this time penalty becomes a replacement for the instigating minor, a free pass was given Clarkson on the 10-minute misconduct.  This also reduced the potential for suspension after the accumulation of three instigator penalties in one regular season by the same player.

I have seen several fights this season where an obvious instigator was not penalized under this rule. For some reason, the referees are avoiding making this call. In years past, there have been times when the call was made and the misconduct rescinded after a team requested a review of the play by Hockey Operations. No referee enjoys having a penalty call rescinded. That also sends a message to the refs not to call it.
If a referee feels he missed an infraction (Phaneuf hit on Parise), he might find it unfair to assess an instigator penalty to a player (Clarkson) that settles the score. While I can understand the philosophy, two wrongs don't make it right.

Much debate has been made about removing the instigator penalty to allow player policing on dirty hits. While the rule still appears in the book, as far as I can determine, it has all but been removed in the practical application.

The league either has to remove the instigator penalty from the rule book or instruct the referees to assess it when obvious violations occur. When the call is made, the league then needs to support it.