They’re Cheatin’ So They Must Be Tryin’


There’s an old hockey saying that goes “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” It’s been credited to a lot of different people over the years. Actually, Cam Neely said it to me once.

The truth of the matter is this: Players and coaches will push the boundaries of the rulebook as far as they can take them.

They know it’s neither practical nor desirable to call everything that is technically against the Rule Book.

The other night in an AHL game, Bridgeport goaltender David Leggio saw a 2-on-0 breakaway coming his way, and intentionally threw the net off the moorings. The Hockey News called it an inventive way to break up the rush. What it actually is, of course, is an illegal way of doing it.

The officials followed the AHL Rule Book and awarded a penalty shot for Leggio deliberately knocking the net off on a breakaway. The practical effect was that Leggio created a somewhat easier situation for himself. The result penalty shot, which Leggio stopped, was of course a one-shooter attempt rather than two attackers skating at him.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. A rule change that would put an end to this would be to award a goal (just as an empty net attempt where a defending player throws his stick is awarded as a goal).

There is also precedent, under different circumstances, to award two penalty shots on the same play in which two differences offenses are committed. I know, because I once made exactly such a ruling.

Early in my officiating career, I officiated an AHL game in Hershey in which I called two penalty shots on the same play as a result of infractions by defenseman Kevin McCarthy.

What happened was that McCarthy hooked the attacking forward at the blueline. The opposing player, the puck and Kevin slid all into the goalie, and the puck was lying flat in the crease short of the goal line. Kato covered the puck with his hand and then threw it in a corner.

Two different acts dictating penalty shots; hence, two penalty shots.

A confused Hershey Bears general manager Frank Mathers called me on the phone during the time I was at the box explaining it to the scorer, wanting a personal explanation. I gave Frank the courtesy. I thought he was going to fall out of the press box!

The rules stipulates that covering the puck in the crease is a penalty shot. An opponent was going to play the puck and likely score a goal but McCarthy reached out and grabbed it, gaining possession as he did not have a stick.

The criteria here:

1) Covering the puck with his hand, McCarthy caused a stoppage, and

2) With a closed hand, the defensemen threw it from inside the crease.

Either one of these actions satisfied the rule for a penalty shot. Had he batted it or pushed it, no problem, but the stoppage happened when he covered it with his hand. I had to enforce that rule and I already had a call for the original hooking foul that denied the opposing player in the slot.

Incidentally, the player missed the first penalty shot and scored on the second.

The correct calls were made. The next day, no one could contradict my decision by rule. After the game, Mathers simply nodded when I explained it further and walked away with no complaint.

Years later, when Kevin McCarthy became a coach, he and I would still laugh about it. I’d skate near the bench and say in front of the players, “Tell ’em about the two penalty shots, Kevin!”

Getting back to the original premise of this blog, to steal a line from “This is Spinal Tap,” it’s such a fine line between clever and stupid in the way rules get stretched. Very often, the line is whether an official spots — and calls — the infraction, especially when a goal or a scoring chance is involved.

For example, take a look at this recent play in a game in Dallas. Notice anything unusual?

At full speed, it’s hard to detect what happened. Ah, but take a look at the behind-the-net, slow motion replay. Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn (number 14) hooked the Philadelphia defenseman, pulling him toward him in order to create room for the eventual goal scorer.

Of course, this is a very easy infraction for any official to miss. But’s let’s suppose the official happened to spot and call the penalty. Suddenly, it goes from a “clever” little bit of undetected cheating to a stupid and needless offensive zone penalty that wipes out a goal and cancels out a power play.

This cat-and-mouse game has gone in hockey ever on since the first puck was dropped in an organized game and the first penalty was called. It’s always going to be part of the game.

********* 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 Eastern College Athletic Conference (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.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.This post originally appeared on and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.