Safety First: Foligno Accident Was Preventable

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Last night’s scary situation in Los Angeles that saw Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno taken off on a stretcher after a collision with linesman Shane Heyer could have had much worse long-term consequences. Thankfully, the early word is that Foligno will be fine.

The incident also could have been prevented. I’m not picking on Shane here, because he was likely only doing what he’s been coached to do.

I’m also sure than no one felt worse for Foligno than the linesman. It just as easily could have been Heyer that got hurt.

This is an example of poor positioning. My advice to an official is get down the boards and trust your partner to come up to cover. Let your partner come up to protect you and take that line. Otherwise, the results can be devastating.

A similar type of play ended the career of my old friend Pat Dapuzzo, who was one of the best linesman with whom I ever had the privilege to work. On February 9, 2008, Pat was struck heavily in the face with the skate of Philadelphia Flyers forward Steve Downie. On the play, Downie was being checked heavily into the boards and his skate came up and accidentally struck Dapuzzo in the face.

Pat suffered serious injuries. He sustained 10 fractures in his face and part of his nose was severed and had to be stitched with 40-plus stitches. The pride of Hoboken retired after the season.

In Game Six of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, linesman Andre Racicot got caught up — and injured — in what proved to be an important play in the Los Angeles Kings’ Cup-clinching win over the New Jersey Devils.

On the play, Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown sped down the wall near the benches, with New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov in pursuit. Racicot, skating backward in harm’s way, couldn’t get out of the way in time. Volchenkov blasted into Racicot, knocking the linesman on his back and, to make matters worse, accidentally clipped him in the mouth with his stick.

In the meantime, Volchenkov was taken out of the play. Brown took advantage to skate deep into the zone, and feed the puck from behind the net to Jeff Carter in the slot. Carter scored to give LA an insurmountable 4-0 lead in what proved to be Cup-winning victory.

Racicot sustained a nasty facial injury, but he toughed it out as long as he could stand it. Andre was later replaced by standby linesman Derek Amell.

While accidents can happen, many of these sorts of collisions — including the Foligno situation — are preventable and often stem from bad coaching. There are three basic rules: 1. Put safety first. There is no extra hazard pay for getting steamrolled and dangerous situations arise — for both the official and the player — when evasive action is needed but not taken. 2. Trust your partners. If an official has to take preventative action and escape a potential collision, he should have faith that his officiating teammates will come up to cover the call. 3. It’s not “your” line, it’s part of the playing surface. The line belongs to the owners of the rink and perhaps the painter who painted it. Officials need to understand that those things on the bottom of their feet are skates. Use them to skate to where you can see the play and be safe.

Our prime directive as officials is to get the call right. An official sitting on his backside after standing his ground too long is not helping the game. However, I don’t blame the officials themselves in most cases, because they are only doing what is misguidedly expected of them by their bosses.

You know who I fault for the fact that these collisions are not as rare as they should be? I blame being handcuffed by protocols created by bosses who have either never officiated at all or have not done so at a high level. These folks, many of whom do not understand the psychology of officiating and may never have had the physical fitness to relate to the athleticism of most modern officials, do not understand that the aforementioned rules one and two are necessary parts of good officiating.

************ 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.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget. This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.