The Penn State hockey team won the series this weekend versus Michigan State with a win and a tie. There were many positives for both the Spartans and the Lions. Michigan State showed that it is no longer in the bottom-third of the college hockey ranks, having made noticeable progress in its multi-year rebuilding effort. Penn State got the services of one of its best defensive players, Kevin Kerr, who returned from injury after playing only the first two games of the season.
Peyton Jones played well in net for the third consecutive weekend and it looks like his early-season woes are a thing of the past. The team has shown depth while waiting for the return of one of the most potent scorers in all of college hockey, Denis Smirnov.
There is a lot to be thankful for regarding this season as it relates to the Penn State hockey team but there is one thing that has to be addressed: the officiating. It was very bad on Saturday night.
Coaches have bad games. Sometimes players dangle for too long and miss an opportunity to score, other times a hockey writer may dangle a participle. Nobody is perfect. I have no idea whether Brett Sheva or Colin Kronforst, the referees on Saturday night, are particularly good at their job or not. They clearly blew two calls that had coach Gadowsky, the team, and fans watching the game mystified.
Maybe mystified is a bit of an embellishment for the feeling I am trying to describe. That’s my bad. If I were a college hockey player that type of move, exaggerating needlessly for the purpose of getting attention, would result in a trip to the penalty box for two minutes. The two calls, each for embellishment, made us angry. Or disappointed. It gave us the sads. They seemed unnecessary. Here, let’s use video so that the words won’t have to fit exactly and let you, the reader, fill in the correct description.
With twelve minutes left in the third period and Penn State trailing 2-1, Brandon Biro made his way to the front of the net and had a great chance to tie the game for the Lions. The scoring chance was denied but then Biro had a clear path to retrieve the puck deep in the Michigan State zone, with numbers on the Lions’ side and Kevin Kerr waiting at the point to quarterback the attack. There is no logical reason for one of the best offensive minds on the team, Biro, to decide to fall to the ice for the sake of faking a penalty. Especially since the referee saw and called the clear penalty and it was a case of having both. Biro could have retrieved the puck and on a delayed penalty, got it out to Kerr, scored a goal, and still in college hockey PSU would have had a man advantage. Scoring during a delayed penalty at the collegiate level does not negate the penalty.
So the referee saw this play and decided that after calling the clear hit to the face of Biro, that Biro also embellished the hit. That’s quite a stretch for a player and team that had not been whistled for an embellishment call this season. It’s even more strange to think that Biro would take himself out of the play under those circumstances. It’s much more likely the he was momentarily reacting to having been punched in the jaw. Hockey helmets protect well from pucks and sticks coming at them, but they are not much help when you get a left-uppercut just under the mask. In fact, in that circumstance the helmet and mask can add to the pain, as they are dragged upward in an unnatural manner.
Here’s a look at the play in real time. Watch as No.10 Biro glides gracefully into position in front of the net and Kerr finds him perfectly. After the play both Biro and Kerr are in excellent position to continue the onslaught, but instead, Biro apparently thought his thespian skills were better suited than his hockey skills. That’s what the referee called anyway.
The only way that it could be understandable for the referee to both see the penalty that was called, a shot to the face, and also feel that Biro embellished the hit would be to consider the way Biro reached for his face. Here’s a look at a close-up that could shed some light on why Biro would, either by being a master-actor or by a natural reaction to getting smacked in the chin, reached for his helmet. Also figure that by the time Biro hit the ice, the whistle had already been blown to stop the play for the penalty.
Without context, only looking at the above gif, it would be possible to give the referee a sliver of room to navigate. The ref could have seen the call that he made, the hit to the face, and not felt that Biro had to recoil and fall to the ice. But it is strange to think that the same referee could see both the hit to the face, call it, and then deem Biro’s reaction as over-the-top. How is he supposed to react to a left-uppercut?
The second embellishment call came a few minutes later with the Lions still trailing by one point with six minutes left in the game. There is no room for ambiguity in what happened between David Keefer of Michigan State and Trevor Hamilton of PSU. Keefer hit Hamilton illegally, and dangerously, twice.
Here’s the full-length look at the play complete with Tim King’s reaction to the call and performance of the referees.
Here’s an up-close look at the play. Watch as Keefer’s stick pulls Hamilton’s left leg out of place and then smacks the left leg again, taking him to the ice. That’s two separate offenses, each purposeful, that could have injured Trevor Hamilton. Notice how Hamilton’s left leg juts outward awkwardly on the initial hit. That’s called losing your edge in hockey terms, meaning for that moment in time Hamilton’s skate was not secure to the ice, leaving him in jeopardy of falling or worse; getting injured. He could have sprained an ankle on that alone. Then the second hit to the same leg not only causes Hamilton to fall to the ice unexpectedly, but his left foot gets tweaked the opposite way as he is falling. If you can keep your eyes focused on the left skate of Hamilton, you can see that he avoided a serious injury. The left skate, just as he emerges from the other side of the net, catches the toe on the ice, pulling his foot inward, catching on the ice and stopping while his momentum takes him the opposite direction. He’s lucky that didn’t translate into a high-ankle sprain, which could have cost him the majority of the rest of the season.
Instead Hamilton went to the penalty box for the same amount of time, two minutes, that the man who hit him illegally did. Why you ask? The referee declared that Hamilton’s reaction to the hit was embellished. Look at Hamilton as he simply falls to the ice. The referee saw the illegal hit by Keefer and called it prior to calling the embellishment on Hamilton. Sure, the ref probably didn’t know the extent to which Hamilton’s knee had just been worked over, but he saw the infraction. What did he expect the player to do? Not fall down?
It had to have been a blown call. Otherwise there needs to be an explanation given to Guy Gadowsky, and all the players and coaches in the Big Ten, of what is expected of a player in Hamilton’s position. Or we could rearrange the entire world around us to make it so that Hamilton’s reaction was in fact inappropriate. It’s just a missed call, but it would be nice to hear that from the Big Ten.
The plays happened late in the game at times when Penn State was set to have a man advantage due to penalties that the referees saw clearly. Instead the extra embellishment penalty, added on top, took away the rightful advantage for PSU.
To say that these plays cost the Lions the game on Saturday night would be a bit of an exaggeration. Nobody wants that. Who is to say how the four minutes of power-play time for PSU would have turned out? What is certain is that the referees got the call wrong, and it’s the type of call that has to be added due to the official’s discretion. For the Lions to have the first two embellishment calls of the season made in that situation left a very bad taste in the mouth of those who witnessed it.
A simple and brief apology from the Big Ten would be appropriate.