It was the call that got the whole hockey world talking. Referee Stephen Walkom called coincidental minors along the Detroit Red Wings bench on Wednesday night, sending Kyle Quincey and Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad to the penalty box, and in the process negating a goal scored by Niklas Hjalmarsson that would have likely won the game (and the series for the Hawks).
This isn’t Walkom’s first run-in with Blackhawks fans either. In the 2012 playoffs against the Phoenix Coyotes, Walkom was on the ice when Raffi Torres threw a flying hit at Hawks forward Marian Hossa. The play knocked Hossa out of the playoffs and led to months of speculation as to his health, and also resulted in a 25 game suspension for Torres.
Walkom did not issue any penalties on the play.
Walkom was also on the officiating crew the night the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia in June 2010. It was his crew that either discarded or stole (depending on whom you listen to) the puck that Patrick Kane fired between the legs of Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton to win the championship for the Hawks.
Before we delve into the reaction to the penalty call, here is the play in question:
Fortunately for Walkom, he was bailed out of his call when Brent Seabrook scored a shade over three minutes into overtime, but his decision to blow the play dead was met with the ire of not only Hawks fans, but various NHL players as well:
Here's Paul Stastny's take:
Worse call of the playoffs #barnone
— Paul Stastny (@PaulyWalnuts26) May 30, 2013
And here is Evander Kane's:
Wow! That's is a terrible call! Terrible! What if Chicago doesn't win now? What do you think?
— Evander Kane (@EKane9JETS) May 30, 2013
The league was swift to defend Walkom’s call from the onslaught of criticism, however, and TSN has that story:
“NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murhpy (sic) explained to TSN on Thursday that Walkom’s job on the play was to watch behind the play and not concern himself with the puck. The whistle was blown before the goal and the league agreed that the no-goal call was, “absolutely correct.””
Former official Kerry Fraser disagreed with that assessment, saying that the play should have been allowed to continue:
@timcurrell Saad weak right glove back @ Quincey did not equate as coincidental minor. Play should have been allowed 2 continue w/ Hawk poss
— Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) May 30, 2013
Obviously the play didn’t end up costing the Blackhawks the game, but it very well could have. It comes after a rash of controversies in other sports that have brought the issue of officiating to the forefront. For example, a “catch” by Golden Tate was initially ruled an interception for the Green Bay Packers, but after video review, the call was incorrectly overturned and the touchdown (and game) were given to the Seattle Seahawks.
In addition, the MLB has had several incorrect calls recently, with Angel Hernandez’s robbery of a home run from the Cleveland Indians coming to mind immediately.
Could sports leagues throughout the world be finally falling behind athletes that have gotten increasingly faster as time has worn on, or are we just living in an age when blown calls are magnified in scope because of the fact that slow motion replays are available for plays that otherwise would have gone uncontested?
It’s likely a mixture of both, but one thing is for certain: the “human element” that sports like baseball seem to enjoy so much is having a terrible effect on the playoffs in the NHL, and officials need to do a better job of keeping themselves out of the limelight.
Needless to say, Walkom did not do that on Wednesday night.