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Fraser: A look at Niederreiter's hit on Burrows

Kerry Fraser
3/27/2014 2:44:52 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca.

Hello Kerry,

After watching Nino Niederreiter clobber Alex Burrows with an open-ice hit on Wednesday, do you think he should have gotten more than the two minutes for interference. He got him in the head with his shoulder!  

Thanks,
Gary
 
Gary:

While I do not like the contact that Nino Niederreiter delivered to the head of Alexandre Burrows one bit, a two-minute penalty was about all the refs could assess on this play under the rules. A more meaningful and deserved penalty to Niederreiter should come his way via a Player Safety Committee review of this illegal check to the head.

I watched Mike Milbury's take on this play during the NBC intermission of the Rangers-Flyers game last night. Mike didn't agree with the "interference" call since the puck had just left Burrow's stick. Beyond that, Milbury's comments relative to the Niederreiter hit included, "I don't mind it. I think it's more than 2 minutes he should have got." (Which I interpret as no penalty was deserved in Mike's opinion.)
I completely agree with one element of Mike Milbury's assessment on this play; it was not interference! Nino Niederreiter however should be held accountable for the significant contact he delivered with his shoulder cap to the head of Alex Burrows from the side; which by the way I believe was avoidable.

For ongoing player safety this hit, and all similar in nature, need to be regarded as an illegal check to the head in violation of rule 48.2—on a hit resulting in contact with an opponent's head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable. That can only happen if those responsible for doling out punishment interpret the rule verbiage, "main point of contact" to mean "significant" contact to the head coupled with some/secondary contact with the body.

Alexandre Burrows lowered his posture to reach for a puck through the neutral zone. After gaining puck possession Burrows straightened to an upright body position, glided a couple of feet and then released the puck. Nino Niederreiter approached from the side angle position with his skates in a glide and his posture coiled (knees bent and flexed) to deliver a body check that would appear at, least through this setup, to make contact squarely through Burrows body. Just prior to delivering the hit Niederreiter stiffened his legs, thereby elevating his posture significantly upwards towards the head of Burrows. From this strike position, Niederreiter slipped his body just off the center line of Burrows and continued to elevate his shoulder that made significant contact with the head of Alex Burrows. The contact delivered off the center body line and to the head of Burrows resulted in a helicopter freefall for the Vancouver Canuck player.

I doubt very much we would even be talking about this play if Nino Niederreiter had maintained a lowered and flexed posture from the setup and approach through contact of his intended hit on Alexandre Burrows. Like most players however, Neiderrreiter made the dangerous decision to increase velocity through the hit by straightening with an upward drive of his legs and shoulder cap that had no other place to connect than the head area of his opponent.

Rule 48.1 (i) (ii) (iii) provides lots of 'reasons' to determine whether contact with an opponent's head was avoidable. Practically all of these allowances place considerable onus on the recipient/victim of the hit. From (iii) Alexandre Burrows did not "materially change the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact." The material change in position came from Nino Niederreiter. If the rule verbiage doesn't qualify hits of this nature as a "head pick," at the very least it needs to be acknowledged that significant contact resulted from an illegal hit to the head in an ongoing effort to hold players accountable.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser


Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.


Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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