point counterpoint

I’ll admit it, I can be as bloodthirsty as the next impassioned hockey fan. I cheer at the big hits, and I roar for more contact when my team is being limp. (Paging the Toronto Maple Leafs in half the series against the Flyers. 37 years!)

I do not, however, really want to see anybody hurt, and I know that the players don’t either. But in the heat of the pressurized moments of playoff overtimes, the line between intense and harmful is easily blurred.

In bids to inspire their teams, you will often see players recklessly throwing their weight around. Referees and officials working playoff overtimes need to make more stringent calls in order to discourage that surrender to intensity that can so easily lead to serious injury.

In the impassioned overtime of Game 6 of the Leafs-Flyers series, Darcy Tucker unloaded a thunderous hit on Sami Kapanen, crushing his body into the boards and rattling his head off the glass. Kapanen, described by teammate Jeremy Roenick as one of the toughest players in the league, needed three tries just to stand up, and his teammates literally had to haul him off the ice when he got to the bench.

There was no call on the play, even though it was pure luck that Kapanen wasn’t more seriously injured. “Let ’em play,” my detractors will moan, “hockey is a rough game, you just have to suck it up.” I disagree. Players that abandon control of their actions, whether they’ve been swept away by overtime intensity or they’re seeking to galvanise their team, must be discouraged from doing so, or severe injuries will continue to occur and ruin lives. Careful officiating and tough penalties are the best means of dissuading them.

Calgary’s Ville Nieminen was so frustrated by one of his team’s losses to Detroit that in the game’s dying minutes he took a blatant run at Red Wings goaltender Curtis Joseph, knocking him off his feet into the net. Roenick and Toronto’s Nik Antropov traded illegal moves in Game 4, as Roenick closed 20 feet to pound Antropov, who responded with two vicious cross-checks that left Roenick unable to turn his head after the game.

The penalties for these offences were light. Playoff officiating—in overtime in particular—needs to be stringent in any sport to encourage adherence to the rules that are in place so that no one gets hurt. That may sound vaguely Big-Brother-ish, but surely we can all agree that injuring other people is a bad thing.

--Megan Grittani-Livingston

The traditional wisdom that the best referee goes unnoticed is not a backhanded comment on their necessity, but rather one on their utility. At the risk of being overly prescriptive, by definition the players play and referees regulate without dictating too greatly the style of play. Much was made about the noticeable change in officiating at the opening of the 2004 NHL playoffs, as head official Andy Van Hellemond instructed referees to call interference penalties more tightly. However, in encouraging refs to further restrict the flow of the game, the NHL made two glaring mistakes. Firstly, major changes should not be made on the eve of the playoffs, the most important portion of the season. If the players do not understand what constitutes a penalty, they either become self-conscious, or react violently to what they perceive as an arbitrary call. Both are undesirable. Moreover, the type of penalty calls that increased in frequency were incompatible with the one thing that should change in the playoffs, the intensity. Playoff hockey is exciting because the meaningfulness of each game is apparent in every stride. No doubt, whistles are always annoying. It is far better to see your team get a penalty than to see your favourite player hurt by the wild action of another. But the calling of nearly negligible interference penalties is not saving anyone. If anything, it is creating a dangerous mix of frustration and intensity. Arguing that a player is dissuaded from harming another by the potential of a penalty call resembles the argument of deterrence in regards to the death penalty. In the heat of the moment, people will not consider the consequences of their actions. The officiating in overtime testifies to the hypocrisy of the new regulations. Overtime is the most exciting portion of the game, not only because the game is on the line, but because the officiating is notoriously loose. If the officials were looking to prevent injury begot by intensity, the refereeing in overtime would be the most closely called. Thankfully, the officials recognize at this crucial juncture in the game that they should not decide the outcome. The referees cannot be blamed as they appear as unsure as the players of the new regulations. As difficult as it is to pinpoint blame, the increased frequency of whistles is a target, if nothing else for its potential to produce a reversion to the low scoring, yawn-inducing, trap-producing games that have dogged the NHL in past playoff years. This year’s playoffs have been a power play for NHL fans, and should not be compromised by the interference of a confused refereeing stance.

--Gordon Miller

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