WICHITA, KS – It’s not just you, referees across the ECHL are calling more slashing & face-off violation penalties this season.
The enhanced vigilance on the infractions is something that was born in the offseason, according to Mike Pearce, Director of Officials for the ECHL. Pearce was quick to point out there were no new rules introduced in the offseason, instead, just a tighter calling of existing rules. This approach is also being done in the National Hockey League and did not need the approval of the rules committee in either league.
“I met with Stephen Walkom (Vice President and Director of Officiating, NHL) this summer in Buffalo and I told him I was going to enforce the rule (slashing) as written. I felt that there was too much stick work and if it wasn’t a broken stick or broken bone, there was no penalty for slashing,” Pearce said in an interview with Jason Mals.
If you are not familiar, slashing is rule 61.1 in the ECHL Rule Book and says as follows:
“Slashing is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Non-aggressive stick contact to the pant or front of the shin pads, should not be penalized as slashing. Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.”
“Basically, we’re just asking the players instead of swinging in the middle of the body, the hands, to go low, foot-and-a-half, move your stick farther down,” Pierce said.
He goes on to say that, so far, the vigilance is helping the league in ways they didn’t think of at the time the enforcement was announced to the league’s coaches.
“There’s less broken sticks on the ice, which helps the owners because they aren’t paying for expensive sticks. Also, the skilled players are able to demonstrate their ability,” Pierce said. “The upper skill guys feel like they can dangle a little more, and ultimately, we want the highly-skilled guys to show that every night and get a promotion to the American Hockey League.”
More importantly, slashing is a player safety issue, too. There were multiple instances of players who had broken fingers and hands (Vincent Arseneau in Wichita for an example) and missed considerable time or saw their seasons come to an end due to taking slashes and breaking bones.
So, how significant has the increase in slashing calls been? Let’s look.
When compared to last year, there has been a 113.6% increase in slashing minors called (220 in 2017 vs. 103 in 2016) during the first month of the 2017-18 campaign. Last season, there were no majors or suspensions; while this year, there has been one major and suspension (two-game ban for Adam Comrie.)
While not as sexy as slashing, faceoffs are also being closely watched in the ECHL this year. Pierce felt that officials had become sloppy with the interpretation of the rule, by letting centers and wingers cheat in the faceoff circle before the puck drop.
“What we have done is we have emphasized that the players must stay outside the lines. Our struggle right now is making both centermen have their sticks down before the linesman drops the puck,” Pierce said. “It’s been well received. Centers are now telling the other, ‘get your stick down.’ They want to see who’s better.”
For face-off violations, there were only four minors assessed through 83 games played in October last season, compared to nine minors called in 81 games played in the same time frame this season. That is an increase of 125 percent.
Look for this enhanced enforcement in these two areas to continue throughout the season. The Sin Bin will continue tracking this and have an update for you at the ECHL’s all-star break.