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Oleksiak Penalty Loomed Large

September 22, 2020, 8:47 AM ET [1 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
As a longtime official, officiating director and officiating coach, I look at games differently than I did many years ago as a player. When there's a controversial call or non-call, the first thing that I look at is the official's positioning. Was he in the right position to see what he needed to see? Depending on where the play occurred, was this a call that perhaps would have been better off made by his partner referee?

Next, if there's a penalty call involved, I look at the situation: Did the infraction materially affect the flow of play? Was there a scoring chance involved, either in illegally taking one away or creating one through illegal means? Was it a dangerous or reckless play that, regardless of other factors, absolutely HAD to be called?

This filtering process is necessary, because it's neither practical nor advisable to try to call every single grab, hook and mini-slash that occurs in an average game. In the playoffs, there are often even more of these, so a referee's judgment becomes even more vital in deciding what needs to be called and when to let play continue.

In the first period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final match last night between Tampa Bay and Dallas, Stars defenseman Jamie Oleksiak was called for holding Tyler Johnson on a play in the neutral zone. Tampa cashed in on the power play, turning excellent puck movement into a goal by Ondrej Palat and create a 2-0 lead. Riding a wave of momentum, Tampa would then score again less a minute later to make it 3-0. Ultimately, Tampa won, 3-2.

Listen, there was a judgment call to make here, so I defer to the refs who were actually on the ice, Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari. We pay our officials to judge, and they did.

That said, if I were the officiating supervisor in this game, I'd have wanted to discuss the call afterwards with the officiating team. I'd want to know what they saw and why the ref who made the call felt it was necessary.

I have to tell the truth here. Watching the game at home -- where there's no pressure on me to make a split-second judgment and my vantage point is that of a TV camera -- I immediately questioned the necessity of that penalty. It was a neutral ice infraction that was pretty inconsequential. I'd have advised letting that one go, because there were easily a half-dozen similar ones I saw over the course of the night and it would be hard to justify why THAT one crossed the threshold between let-'em-play-on and hadda-call-it.

Broadcaster Ed Olczyk laced into Oleksiak for taking that penalty. Edzo wasn't wrong. There was really no need for Oleksiak to do it, and put himself and his team at risk of a penalty when already trailing. I would remind Eddie, though, that he played the game himself and he was not immune from undisciplined penalties -- hell, I called some of them on him. Believe me, I was far from immune from them myself when I played. The two-minute ones ate at me much more than the fives, at least when there wasn't a scoring chance involved. You do something on impulse -- maybe it's been a long shift, maybe it's a retaliation because the other guy has grabbed at or slashed you a few times, maybe it's just a momentary work ethic lapse. It shouldn't happen, but sometimes it does. It's not a good feeling, especially as you exit the box after an opposing power play goal is scored.

Quick tangent: I once reffed a regular season game where Calgary's Theo Fleury got the better of an opposing team's nervous rookie. I believe it was the first or second shift of the kid's NHL debut. Fleury got him to take a blatant roughing penalty. I had to call it. Fleury then feigned sympathy for the kid and said, "Don't worry, it's OK. I'll have you out in 20 seconds." The kid was so flustered that he said "thank you", before quickly realizing he'd just thanked Fleury for chirping him.

Getting back to the play last night, as an official, you never want to feel like a call/non-call of yours altered the progression of play. Maybe Tampa would still have ultimately scored three goals in the first period. Perhaps a non-call judgement from another play -- such as the Jamie Benn/Nikita Kucherov collision, which I personally felt was a correct non-call because it was two players not seeing one another and a collision resulting with Kucherov getting the worse -- would have had the same end result.

We'll never know. But if that had been my own judgment call last night in the neutral zone, I'd have let the play continue.


A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart
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