No-touch icing has been on the minds of the hockey pundits lately, and for good reason. After Kurtis Foster broke his leg slamming into the boards after a race for the puck, the issue was brought into focus again, and the call went out for change. The debate has simmered down a little, but there is still a little discussion to be had. And frankly, it isn’t a bad discussion to be had.
No-touch icing is already in use in the minor leagues (CHL and ECHL, for instance), and in USA Hockey, so it isn’t unusual. Much like the visor issue, the NHL is behind the curve again. The problem isn’t that it hasn’t been tried, the issue seems to be about excitement. The fans like the race to the puck. And broken legs and concussions be damned, there is going to be that race.
To me, the problem isn’t that there is a race for the puck. The problem is that it ends at the boards. If the race for the puck ended in the middle of the ice, there would be no problem. At worst, you would see the occasional twisted ankle, but major injuries would be gone (until someone did something really stupid, which seems to happen every year). It seems so simple a concept that it is easily overlooked. The race isn’t the issue, it’s where it concludes.
I’ve been thinking about compromise lately. How to keep the race alive, but bring it’s conclusion away from the boards. I have an idea.
I don’t know how many of you follow outdoor lacrosse, aside from unfortunate news stories. In the game, since you are dealing with a hard rubber ball thrown around with sticks that have nets on the end, the ball goes out of bounds quite often. The determining factor as to who gets possession of the ball afterwards is who is closer to the ball when it goes out of bounds. Actually, the determining factor is who’s stick is closer. It’s a race for the ball that is fast, hard and physical.
Here is how the rule reads from the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse rule book, Rule 4, Section 6 – c – 3:
3. When a loose ball goes out of bounds as a result of a shot or deflected
shot at the goal, it shall be awarded to the team that had an inbounds
player’s body nearest to the ball when it became an out-of-bounds
ball, at the point where it was declared out of bounds.
The same could be implemented in hockey, or at least experimented with. When the puck crosses the line, the linesman, or ref, depending on who was in better position, either blows the play dead for icing if the player from the defending team is closer, or waives off icing if the offending team’s player is the closest, and play continues. Most of the “battle” would happen in open ice, taking a lot of the risk out of the race for the puck. The race itself would conclude away from the boards, and there wouldn’t be the danger of positioning for a puck touch rather than a hockey play. Players skate in to the end boards differently if there is a play to be made, rather than stretching to touch the puck for an icing call.
I realize that it could be a photo finish to tell which player is closer to the puck or line, and mistakes are going to be made. Hockey fans are not a tolerant bunch when it comes to making mistakes, especially by the officials, so this could add a little more unwelcome scrutiny to the refs. Mistakes on icing are rare, and usually only detectable by HD video super slo-mo replay. That is why there would have to be some experimentation and testing involved, before bringing it to the game. Who can make the call? Can a ref cover for a linesman that is caught out of position? If two players were equidistant to the line when the puck crossed, icing could be waived off, or not, depending on what the NHL wanted in the rule book. Would it be who was closer to the line, or closer to where the puck crossed the line? How do you determine when to blow off an icing call if the players are close to the goal line? All questions to be answered, but all addressable.
What do you think? Do we really need to change the system? Is another rule change going to bring something better to the game? Is no-touch the only alternative? What do you think of lacrosse icing? Comments are always open.