Hamrlik’s goal not too sticky

Roman Hamrlik’s goal against the Senators last night, and his play in general this season, shows the 36 year old former first overall draft pick still has some premium gas in the tank. Sneaking down low in the zone to the goal crease like that is a move that Canadiens defenceman have done a lot the past few years — Andrei Markov is particularly adept at it — but you see it more often on the power play. That one was at even strength.

That goal, in which he batted the puck out of the air after it popped off Brian Elliott’s glove, went to video review and was ruled good. On the TSN telecast, Chris Cuthbert remarked that this is the only instance in which a player is not allowed to make contact with the puck at shoulder level.


Cuthbert certainly remembers when goals
scored by sticks at shoulder level were permitted and he maintained that
should still be the rule. But that was amended in 1993-94 to the current rule, which reads that the stick cannot be higher than four feet from the ice surface — the height of the crossbar.

Why was that change made? It gave the referees a fixed reference point to judge the height of the stick. With players coming in all sizes, it standardized and simplified the call. It also gave taller players an advantage.

The rule pertaining to how high a stick could be in making contact with the puck has changed a few times over the years since it first entered the rule book in the 1929-30 season. For a long time any time a puck went into the net after contact with a stick above the shoulder was waved off — even if the defending team committed the infraction. Starting in 1943, the league would allow a goal if the defending team
knocked the puck into the net with a high stick (and if you’re interested in the history of NHL rules, check out James Duplacey’s 1996 book The Annotated Rules of Hockey).

When video review was instituted in 1991-92, scoring with a high stick was not one of the reviewable calls. Because of the inconsistency in camera angles around the league (there were few at ice level back then) the league figured it was too hard to get an accurate picture of where the stick actually made contact with the puck. But a few years later, the GMs decided that some angles could be helpful at least sometimes, so it was added to the replay situations.

On Hamrlik’s goal, the last replay shown by RDS provided a perfect angle for the reviewers. That’s not always the case, but when it works, it’s pretty helpful.

The rationale for these rules is the league doesn’t want sticks carried and swung at that height. Of course, the general level of stickwork back when these rules were first adopted — in the days of Howie Morenz, Sprague Cleghorn and Eddie Shore — can only be described as quite reckless. Deliberately clubbing an opponent in the head was not uncommon. Even in the Original Six era, stick fights were occasional features of NHL play.

Tougher rules, especially after the Blues Wayne Maki clubbed Boston’s Ted Green in a stick fight and fractured his skull in 1969, curbed that practice dramatically.

When more players began wearing helmets in the 1980s, high sticking fouls rose drastically, and the NHL tried a few measures to keep the sticks down. At one time in the’ ’80s, the league briefly tried to encourage players to keep sticks down by not allowing them to make contact with the puck with a stick held higher than the waist. That effort didn’t last very long.

Then in the late ’80s, the league instituted a zero tolerance call on high sticks that made contact with an opponent’s head. Any stick foul that drew blood, even accidental, was punished by five and a game. The parade to the penalty box didn’t sit well with the GMs who had recommended the rule to begin with, and they tinkered with it over the next two years and the high sticking rules in use today, with double minors for drawing blood and no game misconduct, were adopted.

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It seems as if Sergei Kostitsyn has figured it out in Nashville — at least for the moment. David Boclair writes in The Nashville City Paper that SK74 has been getting about 20 shifts a game consistently in the last few games for the first time this season.

Including Thursday’s game in Detroit, he’s had points in four of his last five games, totalling one goal and four assists. His assist against the Red Wings gives him a four game point streak, which matches his four game streak with the Habs three years ago in his rookie season.

“He’s coming over to our culture, if you will, and he’s starting to play
the way that we want him to play,” coach Barry Trotz told Boclair earlier this
week. “I think when he’s doing the things that we want it really
showcases what he’s capable of doing.”

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