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Dear Mr. Fraser:
Love the column! The amount of hockey rules I have learned from C'mon Ref! is unreal, keep it up!
Now here's my question.
Near the end of the second period of the Oilers-Jets season-opening game, a fight broke out between Luke Gazdic and Chris Thorburn. I noticed that while gaining positional advantage in the fight, it appeared that Gazdic knocked off his own helmet.
My understanding is that if you take off your own helmet (recently exploited by a couple of quick-witted tough guys) you will get a two-minute minor on top of the five-minute fighting major. In my opinion, the helmet was already falling off and Gazdic was having issues with his vision.
Seeing as this is a new rule and it's gotten some criticism, could you maybe shed some light on how it works and why these loopholes seem to be appearing?
Thank you for being a regular student in the C'mon Ref classroom where the learning never stops for all of us!
The overriding spirit and intent of rule 46.6 is to provide an element of safety to players that engage in fisticuffs. In "staged" fights or where a challenge is issued and combat is mutually agreed upon by heavyweights the removal of helmets (and elbow pads) can even provide bad optics in the marketing of the game beyond just the obvious safety issues. Taking an additional two minute penalty (removing helmet) or the potential for breaking a hand by punching a helmet and visor might (and I stress "might") act as some form of deterrent to fighting in general for some.
The black and white of rule 46.6 reads: "No player may remove his helmet prior to engaging in a fight. If he should do so, he shall be assessed a two minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting form the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player."
The language of the rule is very clear that the minor penalty applies when a player removes his helmet prior to engaging in a fight! Luke Gazdic and Chris Thorburn were fully engaged in close quarters when Gazdic was bent over by Thornburn and placed in a vulnerable position. Perhaps Gazdic felt his helmet was restricting him in some way or was falling off as you suggest Jordan. For whatever reason, Gazdic quickly flipped off his helmet in one quick motion in the course of and resulting from the altercation as the exemption in the rule states.
This, like all new rules, will be closely monitored by the Hockey Operations, Officiating Department and Player Safety personnel. If players do things deliberately to circumvent the spirit of the rule, adjustments will be made and the Officials standard enforcement will be altered. "Loopholes" are already being closed. Direction has been given for the Officials to assess minor penalties where opposing players grab onto chin straps and remove each other's helmet in an obvious ploy to circumvent the rule. There will be growing pains in this rule and others that will be addressed as this young season progresses.
It is also important for you to note that as a result of this new helmet removal rule the additional minor penalty for instigating a penalty while wearing a visor is no longer in effect.
Welcome back everyone for what promises to be a terrific NHL hockey season.