Fraser: Explaining the 'intent to blow the whistle' rule

Kerry Fraser
6/17/2013 3:39:21 PM
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Hey Kerry,
Maybe you can help explain the rule of the referee 'intending' to blow the whistle as he's lost sight of the puck, because I just don't get it. In Saturday's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks seemed to score a goal that was disallowed by Wes McCauley. I've never understood this 'intended' to blow the whistle rule, it makes absolutely no sense to me. The puck was clearly across the goal line before McCauley even brought his whistle to his mouth, as he clearly could not see from his vantage point blocked by Tuukka Rask's goal pad that the puck had crossed the line just inside the post. Why does this arbitrary rule exist? Doesn't it make more sense for the video judge to check the audio and see if the puck has crossed the line before the sound of the whistle? After all, players are taught to play to the whistle. Wouldn't that be more cut and dry, and a much better way to make a determination? I just don't get it...

Dino Bellemare
Port Moody, B.C.

Hi Dino,

As we know, when the referee deems play is dead for a variety of reasons (but not limited to losing sight of the puck), he shall blow his whistle. There is a momentary time delay between the ref's determination that the play is stopped (based on his optics and then mental processing of that visual information) and the physical action of bringing the whistle to his lips, blowing air and the sound penetrating the airwaves.  This 'delay' is clarified in the rules so that play is deemed to be stopped by the referee's mental determination in advance of the physical action of blowing the whistle; henceforth the "intent" to blow the whistle.

I provide the following references:

Rule 31.2 — As there is a human factor in blowing the whistle to stop play, the referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.

Rule 78.5 (xii) — (Disallowed Goals) When the referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle.

Dino, it might seem arbitrary to employ the ref's mental thought process (intention) as opposed to the whistle sound that everyone else can physically hear to stop play. The truth is the sound of the whistle used to be the determining factor in stopping play. That philosophy, along with the language in the rule, was changed following a controversial play that occurred in a playoff game between the New York Rangers and the Quebec Nordiques in 1995.

With the Nordiques leading 2-0, Craig Wolanin of the Nords tapped Alexei Kovalev on the back with a one-handed swing of his stick inside the Quebec blue line. Kovalev fell to the ice in a heap and stayed down. With the Nordiques on the attack, referee Andy Van Hellemond skated past Kovalev and told him to get up off the ice; believing that the Ranger player was faking an injury. (Search Youtube for Alexei Kovalev faking injuries in the playoffs.)

As play continued and Joe Sakic scored what would have been Quebec's third goal of the game, the referee saw that Kovalev still remained motionless on the ice. Referee Van Hellemond blew his whistle and disallowed Sakic's goal. Kovalev tied the game with a goal in regulation and assisted on the winner in overtime for a Rangers victory.

The controversy resulted from the fact that Van Hellemond had blown his whistle after the puck entered the net. When questioned by Sr. VP of Hockey Operations Brian Burke following the game, it was the referee's sworn contention that he had blown the whistle due to Kovalev's apparent injury prior to the puck crossing the goal line. Once replay, with enhanced sound, proved the opposite to be true, the referee then stated that he had "intended" to blow the whistle and, in the delay to do so, the puck entered the net. Even though Van Hellemond was eventually fined by Burke for the details of the play, the rule was later changed to support Van Hellemond's contention that play should be stopped the instant a referee intends to blow his whistle.

In Game 2 of this current Stanley Cup Final series between the Bruins and the Hawks, I am positive that referee Wes McCauley lost sight of the puck once Jonathan Toews' wrap-around attempt ended up underneath the sprawled body of Tuukka Rask. Referee McCauley would have also observed something else take place from his perfect position at the net to correctly deem the play dead and intend to blow his whistle. 

As Rask held his left pad against the post to make the initial save off Towes, Brandon Saad jammed his stick hard into Rask's left pad, causing the goalie's left leg and body to sprawl and fully extend along the goal line toward the opposite goal post with the puck underneath the pad. There is no doubt in my mind that seeing this occur, Rule 69.6 flashed into McCauley's mind which states: "In the event that a goalkeeper has been pushed into the net together with the puck by an attacking player after making a stop, the goal will be disallowed."

Rask did not dive from one side of the net to the other; he was pushed by the Chicago attacker(s). The push from Saad, in addition to one from the front of the crease by Marian Hossa, caused the goalkeeper's body and pad to cross the goal line at some point with the puck. When this occurs, it is most prudent of a referee to deem the play stopped and not wait until the puck and goalie end up in the back of the net to react. McCauley's intent at this point was to blow the whistle!

As far as I'm concerned, video review was a formality that could have been dispensed with on this play to determine if the puck had crossed the goal line since McCauley correctly ruled the play dead. Nonetheless, replays could not show the puck crossing the goal line at any time during the play. Only after Rask got up off the ice could the puck be seen lying over the line just inside the post. An inconclusive verdict would be returned and the referee's decision on the ice would stand.

In his first Stanley Cup Final game, McCauley's "intention" to blow his whistle on this play was the right decision to make. I didn't have to hear the sound of the whistle; I knew exactly what he was thinking. You can't just lose sight of the puck.

Rask Toews Bruins Blackhawks (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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