Replay Revisited

It happened again.

Last season Ethan Graham of Michigan State blasted a shot through the Michigan net, which replays shown on CSTV proved was clearly a goal. It did happen lightning-quick (or at 90 mph, as Graham lasered it) and it’s easy to see how the on-ice officials could not have seen it clearly. The overhead camera used by the CCHA did not show conclusively that the puck had gone in. TV replays did, and that prompted a suggestion.

A second situation occurred recently on CSTV’s national NCAA hockey telecast, this one at the historic Gutterson Field House in Vermont.

With Vermont leading Boston College 3-2, Pat Gannon fires a shot netward which Vermont goalie Joe Fallon stops with his glove, but the shot pops up and lands behind him in the crease. Matt Lombardi of BC charges the net for the rebound, and as the puck comes down, he attempts to hammer it home in a tomahawk-type fashion.

The puck lands untouched (by video accounts) in the crease. Lombardi’s momentum carries him into the crease after the puck’s arrival, and the puck bounces off his back leg and across the goal line. There was no goaltender interference, no high stick, and no one in the crease prior to the puck Since he did not intentionally direct the puck into the net, it should have been a goal.



Hockey East, much to my surprise, does not use video review during the regular season. Mistakenly I said this might go upstairs for review, but only the WCHA or CCHA has that procedure as standard protocol in the regular season. (You can see the play on YouTube. It has generated 45,000 hits.)

Referee Scott Hansen correctly conferred with ARs Chris Federico and Glen Cooke to see what they saw. No one was sure. Then, Hansen conferred with the goal judge. According to Rule 5, Section 6 of the 2006-2008 Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Rules and Interpretations, the referee may ask the goal judge how the puck entered the goal cage. The referee(s) shall make the final decision as to whether or not the goal will be allowed.

The goal judge says the puck was struck with a high stick. Hansen, who was totally within his right to confer with the goal judge, rules no goal. We’ll give Hansen the benefit of the doubt that he had the call and the goal judge helped him confirm his own thoughts. We’ll even applaud Hansen for checking with every available opinion.

It should be noted that if this was the playoffs, the goal judge would be a certified NCAA referee or AR. In the regular season, goal judges are usually local people with a passion for the game. There is absolutely no hint of homerism in the Vermont case, but it should be noted that the postseason brings a whole different set of personnel to work the goal booths.

Here is the negative, and it comes from an observer in the know who was in the rink: the officials seem not to have been in position to make the call.

However, as my source told me, “Watch the play. There was a lot of transition just prior to the goal — the teams were going pretty good back and forth. Anyone reffing could have been a bit behind that play, even Guy Lafleur.”

I’m still bewildered by what I saw. It makes me even more confident that my proposal of last season has merit. That is, that it should be standard protocol that any game or venue in any conference at any time that can supply multiple and conclusive replays to settle a goal/no goal issue should be utilized to make sure that any call that can be made correctly. That includes the main three types of technology; overhead cameras (WCHA, CCHA), televised games, and JumboTrons.

Many teams, especially those in the ECACHL, might complain that because they don’t have as many games televised as other teams or conferences, they aren’t playing on a level field. I disagree. You can put the replay technology in for an overhead view and a monitor in the box plus one upstairs for the replay official. Yes its costly, that’s understood.

However, clever sales staffs would probably get someone or multiple someones to sponsor the replay system. For instance, a disputed goal goes to replay at Cornell. The PA announcer blares “This play is being reviewed on the John’s Sporting Goods Store video review system. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

One could argue that a digital video camera positioned on top of the glass behind the net recording the game could be used, and the video checked if a close call occurs. Thinking outside the box is never a bad idea. Might look very youth hockey, but it just might be worth a try in preseason.

While those sound good on paper, it doesn’t mean they are realistic ideas, or even good ones.

In talking with Hockey East commissioner (and Harvard alum) Joe Bertagna, an interesting point was made concerning the use of the video system.

Bertagna said that it would cost about $200,000 to install such a system leaguewide, about $20,000 per team. In looking at how many times a play would go to a review for a disputed goal versus the cost of the technology, it doesn’t add up financially. Furthermore, the number of times a referee might go to video and actually overrule his original call would be even more miniscule, and that cemented Hockey East’s position on not using video replay at its member rinks.

“However, in talking with the NCAA, there is an open window to use video replay when a game is televised, or if a rink has a JumboTron where we can see replays on the in-house feed,” said Bertagna as he headed home from the NHL All-Star game in Dallas. “BU, BC, and I believe UMass have that capability.”

In the CCHA, commissioner Tom Anastos has approved the use of television angles to support in the in-house and league-mandated overhead camera view of the crease and net. High costs have prevented all member clubs from adding the technology that is needed to marry the television feed with that of the replay system, which is set up both in the press box and at ice level. It is not mandated, but more importantly, it is available and that is major progress in this area. Good for the CCHA!

The case could be made that a TV feed could be patched to the penalty box, and the replay official in the press box could always come over for a visit to our booth if needed. Or, put the replay official on a headset in the TV truck. Imagine his viewpoint from there, where he has about 40 screens to look at.

We’d promise never to disclose the contents of that conversation between ref and replay official; however, it would be a pretty fascinating chat for viewers to hear, even if edited and replayed later for time and content purposes. We probably don’t want to the kids to hear one of the parties on the phone ask “Now, where the %*#$ is the &@$%#[email protected] puck?”

The WCHA should also be recognized for its use of video replay in the regular season. In that case, the referee can ask for a review. He is the only one. His decision on the review is final, and he has the only vote. The replay official is responsible for the replays, moving them forward or backward, but the referee has the only say. The only angle is the overhead, and TV replays cannot be used.

The referee has to make a call on the ice, and then if he chooses to review, he must see something different on the replay to make him overturn his call. Every building has the same technology for replay review. He is entitled to use the goal judge as a reference, but once again, the decision rests with the referee.

So what do we make of all this? Is there a way for the six conferences of the NCAA Division I hockey family to implement video replay during the season across the board? Of course there is.

Is there a way to please everyone? Absolutely not. A case can be made that if a small school with a good program like Ferris State or Michigan Tech can have the video system installed, why couldn’t perennial powers UNH, or Maine, or Harvard?

The flip side of this is also logic, and Bertagna makes a good point. Is it the best use of $200,000 to implement a system that is rarely used and when it is, rarely overturns the call on the ice?

There is something to be said for the human element deciding games. Hockey is fast. I’ve refereed at the midget level, and while it is nowhere near the speed of the NCAA, it does show you how fast you have to react, change directions, think, decide, and administer.

Officiating is a thankless and demanding position, and while I’m not making excuses for the plethora of bad calls that happen every year, I am saying that mistakes happen due to a small puck, a high rate of speed, and often an unclear vision of what potential infractions happened because the size and speed of the players. Remember, what you see in your seat or on TV isn’t what they saw.

I still feel that the best solution to the issue is this: If you can get a replay, any replay, use it. CSTV hockey producer Ross Molloy generated several good looks at that no-goal that showed it was a goal, and if Scott Hansen had seen what we saw, he’d have agreed.

It’s similar when Michigan State scored the goal that went through the net — if Steve McInchak had seen CSTV’s replays, he would have put the case to bed quickly and correctly. He didn’t have that chance.

It’s time the officials do. Now.