Thursday, December 2, 2010

About that goal...

Almost nobody (excluding Fighting Sioux fans) seemed too upset about the goal Notre Dame scored with just over three minutes left in Saturday's game against North Dakota that resulted in the a 2-2 tie. It's usually not difficult to tell when Sioux coach Dave Hakstol is unhappy with a call that went against his team. But in his post-game comments, he seemed more than willing to accept the ruling that enabled the Fighting Irish to escape Ralph Engelstad Arena with a tie.

And Sioux goalie Aaron Dell? He's not exactly a wordy or an emotional kind of guy. He didn't say that he felt as though the Notre Dame player in the crease had interfered with him, although it certainly looked as if that was the case at the time the Fighting Irish scored.

So I didn't think there was any reason to make an issue of the game-tying goal until I watched this replay and reviewed the NCAA ice hockey rule book. I had assumed the goal was allowed because the puck was in the crease at the time Notre Dame's Bryan Rust (No. 21) appeared to slide into the crease totally on his own. But as this frame from the video shows, Rust was well into the crease and the puck was well out of it before Notre Dame's Sam Calabrese swept the puck on goal.

It's quite obvious in the video that Rust physically interfered with Dell's ability to make a save. So given that Rust went into the crease after the puck came out and Rust clearly interfered with Dell, how could the referee award the goal to Notre Dame? I submitted that question to the WCHA. Head official Greg Shepherd was kind enough to provide this response:
The only view that the officials have for replay is the overhead view, and talking to the on-ice officials live they thought the North Dakota player caused the Notre Dame player to go into the goalie by the use of his stick, and from the overhead view there was nothing to overturn that. If we had other angles it could have been different.
Unfortunately, Shepherd raises more questions than he answers. The North Dakota player in question would have been Matt Frattin (No. 21) who was closest to Rust. In the video, Frattin ties up Rust's stick with his stick and lifts it to keep Rust from putting in the rebound off Dell's save. Frattin appears to do nothing that would have caused Rust to fall. In sliding into the crease, Rust makes contact with Dell and comes between the goalie and the puck.

Had Calabrese swept the puck straight into the net, the referees might have been able to make the case that Dell was in no position to make a save. Thus, Rust's contact would have made no difference. But the puck appears to hit the post and then travel at an angle away from the goal line. It deflects in off either Dell or Rust. Dell had virtually no chance of making a save with Rust in contact with him and lying between him and the puck.

The most important question is this: If the officials saw Frattin use his stick in a manner that caused Rust to fall, why didn't they call a penalty? Certainly Frattin would have been guilty of interference on a Notre Dame scoring opportunity. A penalty would have been warranted. But because no penalty was called, it severely weakens the case that Rust went into the crease because of Frattin's stick work.

Besides that, the video from various angles in no way supports the on-ice officials' claim that Frattin's stick caused Rust to lose his balance, slide into the crease and make contact with the goalie. While I can sympathize with the fact that the referees don't have access to anything but the overhead view in making their call, the fact remains that their decision was based not only on something that didn't happen, but also on something that the one video replay they viewed didn't support.

Shepherd leaves open the possibility that had the referees been able to see the replays of the goal from different angles, they might have made a different decision. That's nice, but what does the WCHA do about an officiating crew which allowed a goal that shouldn't have counted, a goal that might have important implications at playoff time in March? What do you do with an officiating crew that claims to have seen a penalty on a scoring opportunity, but didn't call it and then uses the non-call as its rationale for allowing the goal?

It makes no sense.