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Everyone does it, everyone knows it happens but what can referees to stop the delaying tactics used by teams after an icing call? In the first period between Vancouver and Buffalo on Sunday, Buffalo iced the puck and suddenly Zenon Konopka needed a new stick. However, it took the equipment manager about 30-40 seconds trying to find one and gave the team a quick rest. When he finally got near the faceoff dot, the linesman did a quick drop of the puck and the Canucks eventually scored off the resulting play.
I know the Canucks sometimes will send in a winger to purposely get waved out to get a breather, but how long do referees give a team before they are able to give a delay of game penalty? Do they have to warn the team first?
Even though it is within the referee's authority to assess a minor penalty once a player or team deliberately delays the game following an icing, I can think of far more appropriate situations for a referee to flex his muscles and assess a penalty. As you admit Gareth, everyone does it and everyone knows it happens. A warning would typically have to be issued before a delay of game penalty would be assessed in this situation.
When Zenon Konopka felt it necessary to change his stick (for whatever reason) following the Sabres icing infraction the referee was caught between a rock and a hard place and must allow the player to obtain a replacement. Can you imagine the nuclear fallout for the ref, following the Canuck goal, if Konopka had been denied the change and his stick had broken on the ensuing face-off? Forcing Knopka to grab any old replacement off the bench other than his own pattern could also set the ref up for some abuse. In the course of a game there are times when a referee must dig his skates in and take a hard-line position but I believe a ref should pick his battles wisely and with good purpose. In my opinion, a slow face-off following an icing isn't typically worth throwing the gauntlet down.
That being said, one thing that any referee has little tolerance for is to be publicly embarrassed and played for a fool. What I didn't much care for, as I watched this apparent "shell game" being play out at the Buffalo bench, were the snickers and laughter that took place at the referee's expense. The equipment managers and training staff for the Buffalo Sabres are very professional in their duties; as are all NHL team equipment personnel.
To believe that a player's stick wasn't available in the rack just isn't within the realm of possibility. Gareth, let me suggest one possible way to deter a team from abusing rule 81.4—line changes on icing.
My approach would have to laugh right along with them right up to the end of the little charade when Zenon Konopka was finally handed his replacement stick and before he sprinted to the face-off dot with a grin. At that point I would issue Coach Ted Nolan an "official warning" that any undue delay by him or his players on a future icing would result in bench minor penalty. I would be sure to say it with a smile on my face but there would be little doubt that the gauntlet had been dropped!
You might also be curious Gareth (like me) as to why a lengthy rest delay was even required by the Sabres fourth line on just their fourth shift of the game; if in fact that was the intention of Zenon Konopka and the Sabres bench staff. Here's the interesting breakdown for you.
The Sabres fourth line, comprised of Zenon Konopka, John Scott and Nicolas Deslauriers, had played a total of one minute and seventeen seconds (1:17) in three well spaced shifts prior to their fourth shift when the icing infraction was called. Their third shift lasted only 20 seconds and was followed by over two minutes of rest on the bench. The fouth line then changed on the fly and skated for 21 seconds prior to a 25 second breather before play resumed following a Canuck end zone face-off. Once the puck was dropped, they skated for another 13 seconds before the whistle blew for the icing call. I don't think these finely tuned athletes would have been all that fatigued considering my unofficial ice-tracker stats.
If locating a 'missing stick' at the Sabres bench is truly a ploy to slow things down after an icing, perhaps they should pick their spot more wisely and utilize it when players really are fatigued. In any event, this play should now be "one and done!" The gauntlet has been dropped I hope.