Icing Rule Ready For Heated Debate

Matt Nilles

One of hockey’s most basic and fundamental rules may soon receive a makeover.         
As USA Hockey approaches a rule change year, one of the most talked about rules on the table, Rule 620 (b), which allows shorthanded teams to ice the puck, is coming under continued scrutiny.

The rule change, which would be made in the name of promoting skill development, would prevent a shorthanded team from icing the puck. As with any icing infraction, a whistle and faceoff in the offending team’s zone would be the result.

Understandably, such a move could touch off a firestorm of debate across the country.

Last season, the rule change was taken for a test drive as Massachusetts conducted a pilot program. Alaska will follow suit this year.

The findings from both ends of the country will be closely analyzed when USA Hockey’s board of directors vote on any rules changes next June. The board of directors narrowly defeated the proposal at the 2007 Annual Congress.

As can be expected, officials who have been exposed to this proposed rule change are fairly well split on whether they like it or not.
“Many people are going to dislike a rule that adds the possibility of more whistles,” says Owen Thompson, Massachusetts referee-in-chief, as he reflected back on the experimental season. “But overall, after a brief learning period, it just became part of the game, similar to the new standard of enforcement.”

This observation has been confirmed nationally. USA Hockey has been using the “new icing” rule the past three years at all of its player development camps. Reports are that, over time, players adjusted smoothly and that now, few, if any, additional stoppages occur.
“Not everyone liked it at first, but I think it did what it was intended to do,” Thompson says. “Players stopped just firing the puck down the ice and attempted to make plays.”

And like others who are in favor of the proposed rule change, Thompson doesn’t understand why rules should cater to a team that breaks the rules to begin with.

“I am not involved in player development, but I don’t see why a team that just took a penalty should just be given a free pass [to ice the puck],” Thompson says. “The number of shorthanded goals I saw [last year] were incredible. Some teams were even running breakout plays while shorthanded.”
Of course, not everyone shares those sentiments.

“I don’t think [the rule] was a popular one,” says Billy Marcotte, a supervisor of officials with Mass Hockey. “Many [people] felt the game was being changed too much, that a needed opportunity for relief while shorthanded was being taken away.

“The pilot program may have good intentions, but it never garnered much positive feedback that I heard,” he continues. “I personally like the idea of being able to ice the puck while shorthanded.”

Look for this issue to be bantered about the rink in the coming months.

Whistle Blower – Hockey Ref Q&A

Brian Mach, NHL OfficialBrian Mach, NHL OfficialThe good fortune of having 422 NHL games under his belt is not lost on linesman Brian Mach. The 34-year-old resident of Eden Prairie, Minn., has traveled far and wide since joining “The Show” in 2000, but still holds a warm spot in his heart for hockey played in his native state.

USA Hockey Magazine: How long have you been officiating, and how did you get started?
Brian Mach: I have been with USA Hockey for 22 years. I started officiating for the fun of it, and to get more ice time so I could improve my skating.

USAHM:  What is the most memorable game of your career?
BM: My first [NHL] game stands out. I couldn’t believe I was going to work an NHL game, for starters, not to mention I was working it with an instructor I had at a USA Hockey camp who helped me as I came up through the ranks. Also, having family there was awesome.

USAHM: What advice would you offer a young, up-and-coming official?
BM: One, set your goals high and re-evaluate them at the end of each season. Second, finish school, if you are in that phase of your life. Officiating can only take you so far. Third, and most importantly, have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s time to hang up the skates.

USAHM: What is your favorite NHL arena, and which NHL city is, in your opinion, a true “hockey city?”
BM: I have two [favorite arenas]. One is Madison Square Garden [in New York City] because of the history. Not to mention, you have to go up a few floors to ice level. That’s pretty unique. Also Xcel Energy Center [St. Paul, Minn.]. It’s a blast to work in front of a lot of referees I have helped along the way. And Minneapolis-St. Paul is a true “hockey city.” The people here and throughout
Minnesota have a true understanding of the sport and what it means to them.

USAHM: What do you do in the offseason?
BM: I spend as much time as possible with my wonderful family. I have a wife and three kids.

USAHM: What is the most exciting thing about life in the NHL, and what is the biggest hassle?
BM: The best part is not thinking of it as a job. I have fun every night working games and skating in so many different arenas in the U.S. and Canada. The hardest part is being away from my family. The travel isn’t a cakewalk, either. 

USA Hockey Standard of Play and Rules

The carrying of a stick above the normal height of the shoulder will result in a high sticking call. A goal scored from a stick carried above the shoulder shall not be allowed. A major plus game misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player who injures an opponent by the use of a high stick.



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