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Fraser: The importance of linesman positioning for offside

Kerry Fraser
4/28/2014 3:44:18 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.

Hey Kerry,
 
Undoubtedly you will receive a lot of emails regarding this game. I have a question regarding the position of the linesman on the missed offside call that led to the Avs tying the game late in the third period against the Wild on Friday.
 
Why is the linesman positioned outside the blue line? Shouldn't he be inside the line so that his body or skates aren't inadvertently the cause of an offside for the attacking team? If he were in position inside the line, he surely wouldn't have to lean away from the line as he does in the photograph all over the media. I would like to know your thoughts. Thanks.
 
DJ Waldron
 
DJ,

I want to establish first and foremost that Pierre Racicot is universally accepted as one of the top linesman in the NHL. Racicot's high level of skill and competency has been recognized with seven consecutive selections to work the Stanley Cup Final. I worked many games with Pierre and can tell you firsthand that he has earned much deserved respect from players and coaches throughout the League. No matter how good a player or official is, mistakes are sometimes made. The great officials minimize their mistakes and Racicot clearly falls into that category. This is one of the very few times that this linesman got the call wrong. Let me explain why that happened.

As you point out DJ, linesman Racicot's initial decision to set up outside the blue line created an obstructed view of the inside edge of the line once Nathan MacKinnon carried the puck a mere couple of feet in front of the linesman. From this less than perfect position, and with Paul Stastny in full stride and about to cross the line to the right of MacKinnon, Racicot made the quick, but unfortunate, decision to alter his upper body posture away from the line.

This move, made in a millisecond of time, was initiated by the linesman in an effort to gain an angle that might allow him to see both the puck and Stastny crossing the inside edge of the blue line. What this new angle created for the linesman, however, was a sightline toward the middle of the ice that became obstructed by the body of MacKinnon. Offside resulted in the blink of an eye as Stastny's lead skate (and with his back skate in the air not in contact with the line or outside the attacking zone) crossed inches ahead of the puck and resulted in a rare missed call by Racicot.

I had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented linesmen during the course of my career; Pierre Racicot included. As I was writing this column I spoke with HHOF member and former colleague Ray Scapinello to provide us with some technical insight on a play of this nature. 'Scamp' said that he learned from fellow Hall-of-Fame members John D'Amico and Matt Pavelich that, as a rule of thumb, it was imperative for the linesman to be set inside the blue line prior to players and the puck crossing the line.

I'm sure it might have happened through unavoidable circumstance but I can't ever remember Scapinello making a decision on an off-side from the neutral zone. On the contrary, I have vivid memories of 'Scamp' positioned inside the zone, down on one knee and looking along the inside edge of the blue line to render his accurate decision on a close call. Once the play was deemed 'on-side', the little fellow jumped up and quickly moved his skates outside the blue line to avoid being hit with the puck and preventing it from exiting the zone.

Ray stressed the importance of the linesmen seeing the attack develop, moving quickly to set up inside the blue line and waiting to make the call as the puck and players cross the line. Scamp said this, especially with the red line no longer in play for the off-side pass rule and the linesmen must be dialed in for potential stretch passes. When set up inside the blue line, Ray said it didn't matter if all five attacking players crossed the line at the same time because his view would not be obstructed.

The rare missed offside call by Racicot was an anomaly for this highly skilled professional linesman. He will learn from this experience and gain an unobstructed sightline from a position inside the blue line whenever possible. If, in the future, there is a need to alter his upper body posture/sightline along the line, my guess is Pierre will lean toward the inside edge instead of away from it.

This play not only demonstrates the speed of the game but also that human error can and will occur, no matter good the player or official is. This play aside, the NHL Officiating Department could certainly use Hockey Hall of Fame legendary linesman Ray Scapinello to lead and coach the current crop of NHL linesmen, no matter how proficient they might be.

'Scamp' learned from the very best in his day; the present group of linesman should be afforded the same privilege.

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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