More than two years ago, the league’s most-despised enforcer – Sean Avery – left a mark on the NHL rulebook when he infamously faced away from the play and waved his hands and stick in the face of goaltender Martin Brodeur. A new rule, dubbed the “Sean Avery Rule”, was put into place as an amendment to the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Today, that made all the difference.
“An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender’s face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play,” said director of hockey operations Colin Campbell following the incident in April of 2008.
In this Black Friday match up between the Calgary Flames and Philadelphia Flyers, that rule was all the difference. Tied 2-2 going into the overtime period, the Flyers looked to take home their two point victory after Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano was whistled for holding, giving the Flyers a prime power play opportunity.
Soon after setting up, Chris Pronger moved to the front of the net, leaving the puck movement to Briere, Richards, and Timonen. Richards fired a shot past Miikka Kiprusoff that seemingly ended the game. But the goal was immediately waved off by referee Ghislain Hebert. For a second, Chris Pronger’s hand had moved into Kiprusoff’s line of vision, prompting the ref to nail him with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
This was the first time the “Sean Avery Rule” has been invoked since being implemented in 2008.
The problem with this call is that, as Colin Campbell clearly stated, the player needs to be facing the goaltender – thus removing himself from the play – for it to be deemed a penalty. In the case of Chris Pronger, who did in fact wave his hand with the intention of distracting the Kiprusoff, he was facing the play, moving with the puck, and staying engaged with the action on-ice.
Another problem comes when you consider the fact that when Pronger committed the apparent infraction, the Flyers had puck control and the play should have been blown dead on a delayed call almost immediately. Instead, more than three seconds passed as Richards handled the puck, took the shot, and the team began to celebrate when Ghislain Hebert finally made the call.
Hebert refused an on-ice explanation, choosing to ignore the enraged and understandably frustrated Flyers players. Furthermore, he denied comment following the game.
“I know why there is a rule that got put in place for that but Chris Pronger is looking out at the shot,” said Peter Laviolette. “He put his hand up for a second … he put it back down, there was a battle in front of the net that ensued after that … and then eventually a puck came in.
“If you’re going to call that, then I guess you call it right away, in my opinion. But [that was] certainly not the intent of the rule to when Sean Avery was doing it a few years back.”
The overtime period ended, and a shootout ensued. For Sergei Bobrovsky, this was the first shootout of his career. After Claude Giroux led off with a goal, the next two Flyers shooters failed to beat Kiprusoff with their moves and a pair of Calagary shooters were able to put it past Bobrovsky for a 3-2 shootout win.
While the Flyers seemed to have earned a win to all in attendance here at the Wells Fargo Center, the players don’t feel they deserved the two points anyway.
“It would have been nice to get it, but at the same time, I didn’t think we played well enough to deserve it,” said captain Mike Richards following the game.
“Our power play didn’t generate enough offense, nor momentum throughout the hockey game. We didn’t skate well enough to win.”
Despite the overtime loss, the Flyers still rest safely upon the top of the Eastern Conference. But was everyone knows since last year’s April scare when they nearly missed the playoffs – every point counts. Hopefully this one doesn’t end up as “the one that got away”.