Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Simple question Kerry,
Why is 'face washing' not unsportsmanlike conduct? These actions start in Junior hockey and seem to be well accepted at all levels.
Even if only one player does it in a scrum, there are no consequences! All it does is intensify a bad situation.
Why is it allowed?
The simple answer to your question is to have Hockey Ops direct the Referees to call an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty every time a 'stinky glove' is rubbed in the face of an opponent and this 'chicken scratch' tactic could be eliminated from the game at all levels!
While NHL hockey is a "man's game" it has been necessary to legislate against unbecoming conduct demonstrated by players over time. How did the game arrive at such a place where rule 75.2 had to include, "any player who is guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct including, but not limited to hair-pulling, biting, grabbing hold of a face mask, etc."? I place diving/embellishment in this same category of conduct that is unmanly and tarnishes the great game of hockey as a "win at all cost" mentality is employed. As behaviour such as this is allowed to go unpunished the more deeply it becomes entrenched as an accepted, yet undesirable fabric of the game. The only way to curb (or better yet eliminate) face washing, diving, snowing the goalie and the like is for the Referees to penalize players when they commit these infractions.
This direct approach might be great in theory but not quite so simple to apply when added to the prioritized laundry list that is handed to the Refs through the Team General Managers at the start of every season. While it is obvious to suggest that the Referees are responsible for enforcing every rule in the book they are also expected (and given wide latitude) to utilize their "best judgment" in the application of these rules to allow for an entertaining flow of the game.
This subjective statement found in the rule book can be translated to mean keep the puck moving and limit penalty infractions if possible. "Let us play" can be a common complaint from players and coaches throughout a game when a 'strict' standard of enforcement of the rules (real or perceived) is employed by an officiating crew. The sound judgment a Referee is expected to utilize can be altered late in a game when the score becomes part of the equation as opposed to exclusively ruling on the legality of a player's actions.
Compared to player safety issues such as boarding, checks from behind, illegal hits to the head, charging or restraining infractions like obstruction/interference through the neutral zone or on the fore check, goalkeeper interference, etc., an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against one player in a scrum usually falls well down the priority list. The question becomes what and how much should the Referee call to maintain a balance between enforcing the rules and providing for an "entertaining flow" of the game? Depending upon your perspective, subjective position or team affiliation the answer you provide can vary with each call a Referee might make.
When we were handed the daunting task of eliminating obstruction from the game yet one more time following several failed attempts I made what I felt was an obvious call late in a game in Ottawa. The General Manager of the Sens at that time had been part of the GM's committee that met over the summer to arrive at the mandate the Referees had been handed. The GM met me after the game and we had a civil discussion about the call I made. While the replay of this incident he and I looked at was very similar to one that was demonstrated in the League video we had received prior to the season the GM insisted that my penalty call was NOT what he and the other committee members had intended or agreed upon. While the video supported my judgment on the play, what the General Manager was really telling me was that the call I made only applied to the 29 other teams and not to the Ottawa Senators! It all depends on your perspective.
Personally Brian, I love hard hits and sustained action and did my very best to encourage players to play that way. I couldn't tolerate the "rats" in the game that either hid behind the linesman or stuck their face in front of a guy hoping to draw a penalty in a scrum. Those are the types of players that often get a 'stinky glove' in their face and hope the Ref will protect them. I preferred players who "man-up" like Wendel Clark, Mark Messier and so many others just like them who earned my highest respect for their tough, honest play.
There are two ways a referee can handle the scrum issue effectively. The most obvious is as I suggested, call a penalty against the player that commits the face wash. The other less conventional method I employed was one night at the Bell Centre when a known 'rat' on the Montreal team entered a scrum with the full protection of the linesman. A former teammate of the 'rat' (and a pretty tough guy I might add) had been traded to the opposing team and became engaged with the Montreal player. The 'rat' quipped, trashed talked and threatened his former teammate from the safety the linesman provided him. I skated in and said to the 'rat' and within ear shot of everyone, "It looks to me like you really want a piece of that guy (his former teammate) and maybe you have a score to settle with him?" I turned to the linesman and said, "Do this guy a favour and let him go so he can take care of his own business!"
The opposing player's eyes lit up in delight and shouted to please let him go. The 'rat' wanted no part of it and hung onto the linesman's jersey. The scrum quickly ended without as much as a glove in the face.
My best answer in an effort to eliminate the 'chicken scratch' is the simple one Brian. Assess an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a glove in the face along with hair-pulling, biting, grabbing face mask, diving/embellishment and any other 'unmanly' act a player might commit. This will have a trickle-down effect to hopefully eliminate unbecoming conduct at all levels of the game, including Junior hockey. It just has to be added to the priority list!