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Caps Goalie Holtby Broke 2 NHL Rules in Game 1

May 29, 2018, 12:06 PM ET [12 Comments]
Paul Stewart
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Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

Exiting Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, most of the talk about the series opener seems to focus on the Tom Wilson interference on Jonathan Marchessault and the Ryan Reaves crosscheck on John Carlson moments before Reaves scored in the third period.

In terms of the latter play, yes, Reaves got away with one and benefited from a scoring chance that he turned into a vital goal. On the earlier play, the infraction by Wilson was spotted by a linesman, reported to the referees, and after a conference, there were offsetting minors called. Should it have been an interference major and game misconduct, because the hit was blatantly late Marchessault had to go off for concussion testing? Should it be worthy of another potential suspension for Wilson?

These are all fair-game topics for debate. However, I want to go in a little different direction today and discuss two things that caught my attention last night but which flew under the radar. Folks who scream how they want the Rule Book enforced to the letter of the law will love this one, because we'll see how serious you really are about that belief.

Last night, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby was in violation of two rules in the NHL Rule Book: one pertaining to his uniform and one pertaining to his stick.

Holtby's hockey pants had an oversized tie-up, with laces went halfway down his thigh. By rule (Rule 9.5), "All player pants must be worn in a uniform fashion by all players." Just as I once got into it with Calgary Flames goalie Trevor Kidd for having a hand towel, which he said was to dry off his sweating hands and not for any potential advantage (doesn't matter under the Rule Book and not automatically true), if I had been refereeing last night's game back in my active officiating career, I'd have told Holtby to fix the issue or be removed from the game until it was corrected.

Frankly, watching on TV last night, I spotted that right away. I was a bit surprised that the Vegas bench didn't pick up on it and insist Holtby fix it because teams look for any edge they can get this time of year to potentially get into an opponent's head.

The second violation was an equipment violation. Rule 10.2 specifies that the adhesive tape on the knob of a goalie's stick must be white in color. Holtby sported red tape (ala John Vanbiesbrouck)on the knob of the stick and white on the paddle and blade.

Technically speaking at least, if the referee did not pick up on it, the Golden Knights could have insisted that the Rule Book remedy of 10.2 be followed: "Failure to comply with this provision of the rule will result in the goalkeeper’s stick being deemed unfit for play. The goalkeeper’s stick must be changed without the application of a minor penalty."

Major rule violations? No, but they are rule violations nonetheless.

In hockey, I have seen plenty of ploys used over the years, both deliberate and accidental. I once flagged Adam Oates for playing with a stick blade that was squared rather than beveled, and also not taped.

"No other ref cares about it," Oates said.

"I don't care what other refs do, you're not playing with it when I'm reffing. Get a legal stick or go bevel this one," I responded.

"Why does it matter?" Oates said.

"You're an RPI grad, Oatesy. I'm sure you can figure it out," I said.

The reason why sticks have to beveled is for safety reasons. A squared off blade on a high stick is that much more dangerous.

The quest to gain and edge could be as simple as a goalie sweeping a small pile of snow in front of his crease from around his net. Mike Vernon made an art form out of it and once did it successfully to help thwart a penalty shot.

There was no rule against it and snow naturally forms on the ice surface during the game, so was it cheating? It wasn't like Mike was swiping armloads of snow from the Zamboni pit. Even so, when the NHL adopted the shootout, they also brought in a regulation about a Zamboni once-over down the middle of the ice. Earlier this season, the NHL briefly did a dry scrape to clear out snow piles before overtime began -- until it proved too time consuming and was ditched.

Illegal stick curves (and stick widths) fall in the category of "cheating" because the rules specify limits. But when was the last time we saw a coach call for a stick measurement on the other side?

Yes, I know the maximum curve was increased some years ago and too much curve makes stickhandling and shooting off the backhand tougher. However, I guarantee you there are players who love to shoot one-timers on power plays who bring out illegal sticks for that express purpose. Is it cheating if no one cares to enforce it? Meanwhile, the rules prohibit retroactively disallowing a goal scored with an illegal stick. The player is penalized -- and fined -- but the goal counts. Also, teams cannot challenge a stick after an overtime goal is scored.

What about centers who "cheat with the feet" on faceoffs? People get upset if linesmen spend too much time telling both players to keep their feet north and sticks in the proper position, then one side gets hot if their best faceoff guy gets dumped. Meanwhile, Fred Shero innovated a tactic of sending out two centers for a faceoff and trying to goad the other team's top center into getting tossed from the circle, along with his own guy. Then center number two would come in and take the draw against someone (usually a natural winger) who did not take many draws.

When the late Ned Harkness coached RPI to a national championship, he only had 10 players on his roster. Harkness was very inventive about creating stalling tactics so that his players could a little extra breather. Most folks probably wouldn't call that cheating.

Ah, but what about ploys such as putting down a fine layer of sand or sawdust in the visitors' dressing room? Having the Zamboni conveniently stall out on the ice before the visitors' warmup? Messing with the thermostat? Turning off the vistors' hot water? The skate sharpener or glove drier conveniently malfunction? Slashing a tire on the team bus? Placing 3 a.m. phone calls to the other teams' hotel rooms during a playoff series?

I've seen all of the above happen over the years.

I've also seen the rink dimensions doctored. Having played in the NHL as a member of the Quebec Nordiques and skated on the ice Le Colisee many, many times, I once took to the ice during my refereeing career and instantly realized that something seemed off. Sure enough, the faceoff circle circumference in one of the ice was regulation size but the other side -- the end the Nordiques attacked in the first and third periods -- was non-regulation. This gave the opposing team the disadvantage of being further away from the net in offensive zone faceoffs for two-thirds of the game.

I confronted Michel Bergeron about it, and "Le Tigre" refused to admit to anything but the look in his eye and a barely suppressed smirk gave him away even as he said in this thick Quebecois accent, "Really? And 'ow the [bleep] do you know this, Stewy?"

"Where do you think I played in this league?" I said. "We're going to have to switch sides mid-period so it's 30-30 at each end."

"You can't just do that," he said, his smirk quickly turning to a glower.

"I can and I will," I said.

After the game, with the help of an RCMP friend, we went back and carefully measured the circumference of the circles. It wasn't even close to equal dimensions on both sides!

A similar thing happened when the Verizon Center in Washington first opened: the lines were wrong. As I took to the ice, Caps head coach Ron Wilson quipped to me, "How do you like the new building, Stewy? It's so nice and bright in here that even you should be able to see just fine."

"It is," I said. "In fact, I can already see that the lines were done wrong."

In this case, visiting coach John Paddock was satisfied that there was no significant difference --- not enough for the Capitals to gain an advantage -- and the game was played with normal changes.


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. Today, Stewart serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.
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