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Ah, the automatic puck-over-the-glass penalty rule in the defensive zone. How I love that rule.
No, not really. I detest it. Hated it 30-some years ago when it was it was applied to goalies. Hated it even more when in expanded in recent years to apply to all defensive players.
I blame Ron Hextall. Before that orangutan started shooting the puck like Bobby Hull, the glass was low enough so that fans could converse with the players, put their programs over the sides for autographs, and generally feared little because the puck was played tape to tape vs high and off the glass.
Somehow, I blame European referees who never made tough calls, there was a move toward making a shot in your defensive end over the glass an automatic penalty. Making every souvenir puck that goes into the crowd a two minute minor was great for those that didn’t like to make hard decisions prior to this rule coming into play.
It used to be when a defender shot the puck and it ended up over the boards into the stands, it was in the realm of judgement of the referee to decide if it was shot deliberately or just a byproduct of that low glass.
My first experience with the “new” rule was in Halifax with Bruce Boudreau as the captain, now the astute coach of the Minnesota Wild, I should have known he’d end up coaching. When a puck went over the low glass in the Halifax Forum, the yet to be coach, got into my face definitely needing a breath mint (I kid, Gabby, I kid), and declared that I had to call that a penalty.
Somewhere in Bruce’s office in Minnesota is a picture of me starring Bruce down, I with a slight smile, and he with a dumbfounded look of incredulousness as I told him it wasn't going to call it.
“But it’s a penalty, it’s a new rule!” he said.
I responded by saying, “We are in Halifax, no one is here, and I don’t like that rule! Besides, I’m telling you, it hit the glass. Faceoff left circle!”
Only my father confessor knows if I was telling the truth. I will say this, though: I was young and brash.
OK, fast forward to the controversial play last night in Toronto. The linesman turned and instinctively ducked; a) to avoid getting hit with the puck. b) because pucks hurt, thus he did not see the puck which was shot high grazed the glass negating what would be an automatic penalty.
The next-closest official, the referee on the same side of the ice was far enough away to have his decision that it was shot straight out and thus a penalty cause the 4 officials on the ice to huddle. In the meanwhile, the experts behind the mic have decided to add another page to the rule book by stating that this play should be added to those the long laundry list of plays that can be reviewed.
I don’t like the rule. It takes away judgement and thus forced an incorrect call because referees are human and can make mistakes. I recall what I was taught by John McCauley who always told me that if you have a game where they are playing for you, which was Toronto and Boston last night, don’t infect the status quo with penalties that are not so egregious or so obvious that the grandmother in the last row can’t see them.
Kudos to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy for his interview after the game. Coach Cassidy stated what we know, officials can make mistakes. Where do we go from here? This is another one of those cookie cutter rules that takes judgment and feel out of the hands of the officials.
The referees felt obligated to call a penalty even when they huddled to debate whether all the criteria for delay of game were met.
Bruce Boudreau came to learn something that I feel is important, especially in playoff games, let the players decide who wins by hard skating, great shooting and solid goaltending. Don’t win by ticky tacky power play goals caused by ticky tack rules.
After all, like General George Patton, officials are giving the authority to decide and to lead. It was that same thinking for me and why I loved to referee. I loved to referee by feel and instinct with the rule book allowing me to use my experience and my judgement. It ain’t a penalty ‘til I blow the whistle and I say it is!
Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.