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Dear Mr. Fraser,
In the Islanders/Blues game on Saturday, the Isles had the apparent game-winning goal overturned in overtime because of a 'distinct kicking motion' by Thomas Vanek. This was the explanation the referee received from Toronto after the goal was reviewed. I've watched the play over and over, I can't see any kicking motion, let alone a distinct one. The Isles broadcast team thought it was a good goal. They even reported the Blues broadcast team called it a good goal. The Blues' goalie (Jaroslav Halak) skated toward the gate leading to the visitor's locker room (clearly, he must have figured it was a good goal).
The NHL uses the word "distinct" to describe the words "kicking motion." According to the dictionary, "distinct" means readily distinguishable by the senses. I would imagine that if the NHL added "distinct" they meant that the motion could not be interpreted as anything other than a kicking motion.
What does a "distinct kicking motion" look like from a referee's perspective? As a fan, I would assume the knee would have to bend a bit or the thigh would have to move somewhat, especially if we are talking about a motion being "distinct." I know the NHL can overturn referee's calls if there is conclusive evidence, but what does mean if the video doesn't seem to support the explanation. Does the NHL mean "distinct kicking motion" in a figurative or a literal way? Is there an explanation for "distinct" that the NHL uses that fans and internet analysts are not aware of? How does the NHL determine conclusive evidence to overturn a call, especially when most people watching assumed the goal was a good one? The refs didn't spend a long time at the timekeepers' station, so the evidence should have been distinct to everyone watching, which is wasn't according to how many people thought the goal should have stood. The NHL had to see something that they consider "distinct," but that the rest of people watching may not have considered (this is my speculation). It's that "something" that has prompted my email inquiry to you.
Was this simply a bad call by the guys in Toronto (a frustrating bad call in my personal opinion)?
I appreciate you taking the time to read this email. I enjoy reading your column on TSN.ca.
Thank you for your detailed question along with the logical (and expert) analysis you provided relative to the goal Thomas Vanek scored in overtime.
To the referee's eye, mind and perspective Thomas Vanek did NOT use a "distinct kicking motion" to propel the puck past Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak and score the game-winning goal in overtime. This was another example of an "officiating decision" made correctly on the ice that was overturned by "non-officiating personnel" that staff the Situation Room on a nightly basis. (NFL and MLB employ and empower referees/umpires to make final video review decisions).
The guidelines and definition in determining a "distinct kicking motion" must have changed drastically, at least concerning Situation Room criteria employed, from when the 'kicking puck' rule was first explained to my colleagues and I during a training camp meeting the season the rule was implemented. Otherwise Thomas Vanek's goal and the one scored by Brendan Gallagher of the Habs against Martin Brodeur last week (both of which were deemed legal by the referee in great position on the ice) would not have been overturned and disallowed through the video review process.
The definition in rule 38.4 (iv) remains the same as when it was explained to us in that training camp meeting by Hockey Ops that still control the Situation Room. "A DISTINCT KICKING MOTION is one which, with a pendulum motion, the player propels the puck with his skate into the net. If the Video Goal Judge determines that it was put into the net by an attacking player using a distinct kicking motion, it must be ruled NO GOAL."
As you correctly pointed out, Michael, the former NHL players working as analysts on both the NY Islanders and St. Louis Blues broadcast teams were convinced that Vanek's goal should count. They went so far as to say that Vanek wouldn't have known where the puck was as he rotated his body position away from Halak at the top of the goal crease and was then shoved from behind by Alexander Steen of the Blues. A referee's perspective would clearly indicate that the bump from behind by Steen changed Vanek's rotation to a forward motion toward the net and caused the puck to be 'deflected' off Vanek's skate and into the net. (Rule 49.2 - A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal. A puck that is directed into the net by an attacking play's skate shall be a legitimate goal as long as no distinct kicking motion is evident).
We can envision various legal plays when a player is allowed to deliberately turn and angle his skate to direct a puck into the net or even makes a 'natural' sliding stop at the crease in order to contact the puck causing it to enter the goal. Unless there has been some change in the definition and criteria of a "distinct kicking motion" it makes no sense that Thomas Vanek's goal would be disallowed through a video review decision.
If there has been a "distinct" change in the criteria that the Situation Room employs in rendering their exclusive decisions, perhaps it is time they advise the rest of the hockey world! Until that takes place, Michael, this decision will be viewed by most as "simply a bad call by the guys in Toronto!"