Thursday, March 20, 2008

No Touch Icing

Thanks to yet another near death incident involving an icing, the debate between touch and no touch icing has apparently resurfaced.

I won't go into the incident in detail because you can read what happened from practically every mainstream hockey media outlet. There are two main arguments for no touch icing that are oft repeated:

1. Fans don't pay to see hockey games to watch footraces in mostly meaningless icing calls
2. There is a heightened chance of injury given the vulnerable position of the defenceman in these plays.

Now, personally, I take issue with the first argument. Hockey is all about footraces, and icing plays are no exceptions. Defenceman win the race (I would bet) near 95% of the time, but it's that 5% that's really exceptional. Beating off an icing call is usually the result of a singular individual effort, no different than a great pass or a great save. You show me someone who doesn't appreciate the significance of a play like that and I'll show you someone who isn't really that interested in the sport.

I will say though that the increased chance of injury makes me cringe. A play like the one Kurtis Foster encoutered a few days ago is horrible; one of the most famous is the one where Al MacInnis broke his leg. Having a man of Al MacInnis' stature condemning the touch icing system certainly gives one pause for thought.

Lots of hockey people will give the argument that hockey is a game where people get injured, and if you take away battles for the puck you're losing the essense of the game. I think though that this could be considered a special case, much like the fair catch rule in football. The level of vulnerability seems to be heightened due to a couple of factors: the speed at which both players are racing for the puck, and two, the angle at which the two players are approaching the puck. Players aren't lunging three steps and then pivoting like in zone races, it's 3/4 length of the ice surface, sometimes at top speed going straight at the boards. Come at the puck at an angle and you'll be accused of pulling up and worse, of being 'soft.'

Bob Mckenzie wrote about a proposed solution that is currently being implimented in the USHL and it's one I could definately get behind. It brings a lot of the best of both worlds, protecting the player but allowing a puck battle to happen.

This season the USHL introduced a hybrid form of no-touch icing. It works likes this:

On any potential icing, the linesman has to make a decision by the time the first player or players are crossing an imaginary line that runs across the rink and right through the end-zone faceoff dots and hash marks, or around 25 feet from the end boards.

If the defending player is the first to hit the dots or hash marks, the linesman immediately blows the whistle for automatic no-touch icing. The player does not have to even retrieve the puck.

If the defending player and the attacking player are in a dead heat or a little too close to call, the linesman blows the whistle for icing. The two players on a collision course can immediately let up for the automatic icing.

If, however, the attacking player has any degree of advantage on the defending player, the linesman doesn't blow the whistle and allows the puck chase and potential battle to continue. Linesmen are encouraged to use good judgment. In other words, if a defender is at the dot but totally flat-footed and the attacker is in full stride ready to blow by him, the defender shouldn't necessarily get the benefit of the doubt. Play on.

I think this is a nice solution, and I think something should be done. My only issue with this proposition is that it puts more judgement in the hands of the referees, and I would bet most fans would agree with me that the less decisions the referees have to make, the better.



walkinvisible said...

interesting twist on the no-touch format. let's call it mid-touch icing.

touch icing is exciting, sure. but so are the dramatics of getting your carotid severed by a skate... doesn't mean it should continue for the delight of the crowd.

therealdeal said...

Make no mistake, I enjoy watching the races, but the shear number and magnitude of injuries that occur on icing calls marks a need for change IMO.