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"After Further Review..."

"After Further Review..."
Sabres get early taste of new challenge flag rule

It was long debated and discussed, but when finally adopted didn’t receive too much notice or publicity. In fact, the new 3-on-3 overtime rule received far more attention and discussion during thais past offseason.

On June 5, this recommendation was agreed upon from the joint NHL/NHLPA competition committee. The language read as follows:

“The Committee recommends that a Coach’s Challenge be adopted for expanded video review for goals that may have resulted from (1) goaltender interference and (2) offside plays. The video review process and all decisions on goals where goaltender interference may have occurred will be the responsibility of the Referees at ice level, in consultation with the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto; similarly, goals that may have resulted from an offside play will be reviewed and determined by the on-ice officials, in consultation with the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto. In order for a coach to make a challenge, the team must have its timeout available.”

So there. The NHL, catching up to Major League Baseball and the NFL, has expanded the video review arsenal to include a coach’s challenge, and the Buffalo Sabres and their fans learned much to their chagrin last week on opening night how the rule works, and how lethal it can be to a team’s chances.

After two listless periods facing the Ottawa Senators and in a 2-0 hole, the Sabres came to life in the third period. Jack Eichel netted his first ever NHL goal, a beauty of a wrister from the slot, and the Sabres were back in the game. The crowd was pumped, in fact, as loud as this arena had heard in a few years, and after the game the crowd noise was lauded by more than a few of the Sabres players.

A minute later, Evander Kane scored what appeared to be the tying goal, raising the decibel level even further, with an assist to the Sabres new goal song, DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat.”

Or was it? On the ensuing stoppage in play, Ottawa coach Dave Cameron threw the challenge flag and asked for a video review. Sure enough, Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons was a hair offsides on the rush which produced the ensuing goal by Kane. After what seemed like an interminable stoppage in play, the referee signaled “no goal.”

“We got the second goal and the arena was buzzing. It’s just disappointing to have it turn around that way,” said Girgensons after the game. “That was a close call, but it was the right call.”

Coach Dan Bylsma and the players offered no excuses about the call which cost the Sabres the game. In fact, Bylsma got the word from his assistants right on the bench that the play was offsides and would most likely be called back.

But the new rule, which has now been called upon twice this season in the NHL (the other incident happening on opening night between Toronto and Montreal) is already sparking a great deal of discussion after the fact.

While some like the fact that the opportunity to make the correct call is now amplified, there has been substantial discussion on how such a delay slows down the tempo of the game. Taking goals off the board in a league that is increasingly challenged for offense and scoring offers another argument that perhaps the league has gone too far in putting in place this new rule.

But here’s the bigger issue as teams get more and more acclimated to this new rule. Most likely staffs will be expanded to include more participants in team video war rooms to carefully monitor all aspects of the game and any possible infractions. Coaches are already undoubtedly tinkering with strategies for how they can play this card to get maximum advantage. Mind you, in order to do a challenge a team must have its one timeout, so calling that timeout early in the game will be used sparingly, or not at all.

Challenge calls will be limited to potential offsides which lead to a goal, or goalie interference situations.

In this young season we have yet to see how the new 3 on 3 overtime will work out, having been experimented with in preseason action. But one thing is for certain—the challenge rule was not received very well by the fans at last week’s opener, who had to sit through an endless display of three officials huddled at the scorers table, while the rush of momentum slowly seeped out of the seating bowl. If the referees can’t tweak future reviews to 30 seconds or less, look for this rule to receive further scrutiny by next offseason. Or better yet, a well deserved demise.


■ Coming to HarborCenter. Urban art, to be displayed on the facility’s loading dock doors on the building’s north side, between 716 Food and Sport and the Tim Horton’s café. Artists are being solicited to submit designs through the web site, Officials will choose the best designs and the public will be asked to vote on the winner, who will receive a $1500 prize for the best submission.

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