ST. PAUL – Listeners to the “Mackey and Judd” show on 1500 ESPN know that hockey long has been my favorite sport. In my opinion, the NHL has the best postseason of any sport and when it is played at its highest-level the game can thrill with its combination of speed and skill.
But as a veteran observer of the sport, I also am aware of the fact that the league has many shortcomings that turn off fans and leave it open for ridicule.
One such instance occurred Wednesday night during the second period of a nationally televised game between the Blackhawks and Wild, when a review of a goal by Zach Parise somehow ended up taking more than six minutes.
The officials were trying to determine whether the play crossed the blue line offsides. It certainly looked as if it did, meaning the goal should not have counted, but eventually it was ruled the video was “inconclusive” and the goal stood. Things were made worse by the fact the lasting image was of a linesman having to use a cell phone to talk to the replay center in Toronto.
The bottom line was there was no way the review should have taken that long, especially when the end result was that nothing changed. That was bad because it was annoying and killed the momentum of a good game.
It got much worse on Sunday afternoon during the Wild’s 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Xcel Energy Center.
In a game aired on NBC, viewers witnessed a first-period sequence during which Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon delivered a cross-check to the back of Detroit left winger Gustav Nyquist near the boards in the Wild zone. This certainly could have resulted in a penalty on Spurgeon but play continued.
Nyquist then turned around and used the blade of his stick to spear Spurgeon in the face. Spurgeon wears a shield but the replay showed Nyquist hit Spurgeon below the shield and barely missed his left eye. Spurgeon fell to the ice, eventually received a few stitches and returned to the game. He was sporting a cut on his upper lip after the game.
Nyquist should have gotten a match penalty, meaning he would have been out of the game, and the Wild should have received a five-minute power play. Instead, Nyquist was given a four-minute high-sticking infraction . Only two minutes of that turned into a power play because Wild winger Chris Stewart drew a roughing call for confronting Nyquist. The Wild did get a power-play goal from Nino Niederreiter to take a 2-0 lead.
Nyquist called the spear “completely accidental,” although replays did not appear to back that up.
“Obviously I didn’t mean to do that,” he said. “My stick gets caught, I’m trying to get body position on him. I’m happy he was out there again obviously. I had no intention of doing that. … It looks bad, but I’m happy he’s OK.”
Spurgeon said Nyquist did not apologize and also said he had not seen a replay. “I’m sure something will happen and the league will do something,” Spurgeon said. “I’m just happy it didn’t go in my eye or something like that.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said it was clear that referees Brad Watson and Kyle Rehman did not see it “from the same angle I did.”
“They didn’t think it was that bad,” Boudreau said. “I said, ‘Well watch the replay. You’ll see it deserved more than a double minor.'”
If the NHL had a review system in place for these types of incidents, it would have taken no more than a minute for Watson and Rehman to have assessed a five-minute penalty against Nyquist and tossed him out of the game.
The NHL has claimed to be concerned about cleaning up its sport and protecting its players and they have taken steps to do so. That was not the case Sunday.
There is little question that Nyquist will be suspended for his actions — he should sit for a minimum of five games — but the fact he was allowed to continue on Sunday had to be considered troubling.
“That’s not up to me,” Nyquist said when asked if he thought he would be suspended. “Obviously that’s out of my hands. I don’t know what to say.”
His reaction to Spurgeon’s cross-check, though, said plenty and provided ammunition for all those who find the NHL’s product to be less than credible at times.