A Slip of the Tongue

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Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

Have you ever sent a text message or said something where you inadvertently add or delete a crucial word that changes the meaning to exactly the opposite of what you are trying to say? Of course you have. So have I.

Everyone does it sometimes, as in erroneously saying or texting “I will [not] be home for dinner” when you mean the opposite.

I had it happen on the ice a few times, too, and had to correct myself immediately to be sure the players and coaches on both sides understood my call. My active career was spent in the years before the NHL starting having referees announce penalties and video replay rulings on the mic to the crowd.

When speaking into a live mic, there are bound to be a few slips of the tongue. On Sunday, referee Rob Martell inadvertently said “no goal” over the microphone after a video review correctly reversed a puck-off-the skate no-goal ruling in the Anaheim against Tampa Bay game. The puck had gone off the skate off a defending Tampa player and into the net.

Rob realized his verbal slip-up immediately, went back to the scorer’s table, and then skated back out to make the correct announcement. In his haste to fix the error, he also forgot to make a “good goal” hand signal (pointing to center ice) after the video review.

A few moments later, the referee made the correct announcement and pointed to center ice. The confusion was alleviated. Thankfully, this was a pretty clear-cut ruling. Even the Tampa bench and fans knew it would be a goal for Anaheim once they took even a cursory look at a replay.

Honestly, the main issue I had with this play is a point that I constantly harp on in my writing and day-to-day work: when referees are coached to judge plays from a less-than-ideal angle, they are five times more likely to miss something such as whether a puck went off an attacker or defender’s skate when there is a tangle of bodies and legs to be viewed from an off-to-the-side angle. This was precisely why I worked directly at the net.

The NHL has instilled an increasing mentality of “Just stay off to the side, make a call, then step aside again and let the ‘Situation Room’ in Toronto sort it out.” That bugs the hell out of me for four reasons:

1) Plays at the net and goal/no goal calls are THE most important rulings in a game. Shouldn’t we be making sure we give the person closest to the play the best possible chance at getting the call right the first time?

2) It is supposed to be the on-ice referees’ responsibility to judge these sorts of plays but, with each passing year, they become middle men who make a “temporary” ruling before Toronto makes the final decision. As a matter of fact, it’s become more and more common to have no call at all made on the ice — the ref simply holds up play, confers briefly with his partners and then turns it over to Toronto.

3) Even the standards for reversing an on-ice call are weakening from needing absolutely conclusive evidence of a puck crossing/not crossing the goal line, a high stick, a “distinct kicking motion” (such a nebulous term) or whatnot.

4) The traditional hand signals exist for a reason — to make the call clear without a verbal announcement by the official to the crowd. I have nothing whatsoever against the use of the mic to explain a video ruling. It’s fan-friendly and important to explain why an on-ice call was upheld or overturned.

However, sometimes I think there is so much haste to make the verbal announcement after the final ruling is made that the traditional method of conveying a call falls by the wayside. A few times, I’ve heard the verbal “good goal” without seeing the full washout gesture or the point to the center-ice dot. This seems to be getting more common and acceptable.

You will note, however, that when Martell corrected his slip of the tongue, he DID make the correct and clear-cut hand single to accompany it. I’m sure Rob felt embarrassed but the whole situation was just one of those things that happens in today’s game. It could happen to anyone.

Call me old-fashioned but a little slip of the tongue, followed by an immediate correction, doesn’t bother me so long as the right call and message are derived at the end. This particular situation was a rather harmless one once the on-ice play and final announcement got sorted out.

It is the bigger picture of what is wrong with the way NHL directs its officials that is distorted in my view. It is not all that difficult to reduce the need for delays and the chance for confusion.

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

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a hockey column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.

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