How Not to Break Up a Fight

Last night, in Vancouver’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, linesman Darren Gibbs (and thanks to Puck Daddy for pointing out the name, and the videos) took a fist to the face while breaking up a fight between Cal Clutterbuck and Maxim Lapierre. Here is the Minnesota Wild video of the ‘head shot:’

It’s easy to look at this and say that Clutterbuck should get the book thrown at him, or at least a one game suspension out of it, but I disagree.  No fighter is going to stop while still entangled with his opponent, but the bigger issue here is what the linesman did.  He went in alone to break up the fight.

USA Hockey has put their officiating training manuals online, and the basic manual states about ‘Altercations’ (page 58):

Never enter an altercation by yourself. You are putting yourself in danger of being punched by a player and may also give a player a free shot at the player you are holding onto. Always wait until your partner is there to go in together.

USA Hockey should ask the NHL if they can use this video for training purposes, as this was a textbook example.

What you can’t see in this video is that there is a second ‘altercation’ going on between Keith Ballard and Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak.  While this had turned into a wrestling match, the Clutterbuck and Lapierre fight was turning into the more serious incident.  You can see a bit of it here:

Choices have to be made, and with two tussles going on, there are only so many linesmen to go around. The difference between the amateur ref and the professional ref is that the pro is trained a little better in handling themselves in breaking up a fight.  Still, USA Hockey is correct in asking two linesmen (or refs at the amateur level) to go in at the same time to break up a fight.

Why doesn’t the referee next to the fight intervene and help out the linesman.  Part of the answer lies in what Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks did.  Right after Darren Gibbs gets socked in the jaw, Hamhuis grabbed Clutterbuck’s face and pulled him back a bit (or at the very least, restrained him a little).  It didn’t last long, but this isn’t tag team wrestling.  You need your referees to be able to hand out the penalties and see what is going on.  Had the ref intervened, they would have never caught this.  Whatever Hamhuis’ intentions (I’m SURE he was just trying to keep the linesman from getting hit again), you have to keep your hands out of the field of play while you are on the bench.  He got a misconduct for it, which is the right call.

So while some may look at the punch and say that Clutterbuck (a favorite of fans from all thirty teams) should get a game or two, hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the blame will be spread around a bit.  And as much as a mistake as it was to go in alone, good for Darren Gibbs for doing a tough job.  I’m sure he will be ready to bob and weave a little more next time.

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