B's feelings mixed on hybrid icing experiment

B's feelings mixed on hybrid icing experiment
September 25, 2013, 7:30 pm
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Bruins coach Claude Julien, here discussing a call in the Stanley Cup Final, seems to be leaning against the hybrid icing experiment the NHL has been using in preseason games.

(AP Photo)

The Bruins have only two games left in the preseason, and that means just a couple more chances to test out hybrid icing before they make a decision regarding its adoption – or banishment – for the 2013-14 NHL regular season.

There haven’t been any highly scrutinized or controversial calls in any of Boston’s five exhibition games played this fall, and there are plenty of Bruins players that have come to enjoy the hybrid icing experimentation. As you might expect the defenseman that once got heavily abused in the treacherous race to the puck against the boards are heavily in favor the new rules.

Johnny Boychuk actually said the hybrid icing has kind of put his mind at ease when he’s retreating for the puck.

“There was maybe one time that I think that happened,” said Boychuk when asked if there were any incidents in camp when he felt the linesmen didn’t make the right call with the hybrid icing in effect. “But one of those in 15 tries is pretty good. We just started doing it this preseason, but it really reduces the injuries to the defenseman. So I’d probably vote for it.

“There have been times where there have been chases, and even if you get touched just a little bit it can be a bad situation if you’re going top speed. You could go head-first into the boards. That’s not too much fun, I guess. It’s just easier on your body, and your psyche.

Hybrid icing is defined as a mixture of touch and no-touch icing. It gives a linesman the discretion to blow his whistle and stop the play if he believes a defending player will reach the puck first. If the linesman believes the attacking player has a chance to reach the puck first, he keeps his whistle in his pocket and lets the race to the puck play out. The linesman always will side with the defending player and blow his whistle if he feels the race is a tie by the time the players reach the faceoff dots.

Claude Julien said he had “mixed feelings” about hybrid icing before it was introduced in the preseason games, and he sounded as if he was trending toward the “against it” faction after a handful of games. For the Bruins coach it’s weighing the risk of blown calls against the small number of documented injuries that transpire in this collisions racing for an ice puck.

“The players are the ones who are going to vote on it. I’m 100 percent with the safety of the game, and I know that’s why they put that there," Julien said. "I guess right now I’m just not convinced, when you compare other injuries throughout the whole season and what’s going on, that the icing is one of the biggest culprits of injuries,”  Julien said. “Yeah, you see maybe once or something that a guy happens to slip or something, loses an edge and crashes into the boards.

“But it’s a questionable thing, and to me I’ll live with either or. It’s not the end of the world; it’s the players at the end of the day that are going to have to abide by it, and that’s why they get a vote on it once they’ve experienced it a little bit. In talking to linesmen that are doing that job sometimes it’s tough," Julien said. "Especially when teams have figured out that if you rim the puck around the boards and you have the guy coming in fore-checking [with] the other defenseman going in sideways. In a fraction of a second they have to decide who is the closest to the puck. That’s putting a lot of pressure on them, and it could be late in a game where it makes a difference.”

There’s little doubt the onus of getting the call right falls directly in the linesmen’s lap on close icing calls.

But players such as Joni Pikanen as well as Kurtis Foster and Taylor Fedun have also absolutely been injured in those high speed sprints to the puck in recent years. There are definitely notable cases of the dangerous play causing injury, and hybrid icing would eliminate those injuries in totality while also changing little of hockey’s fast pace and visceral feel.  

Fittingly it will come down to the players coming together for a league-wide NHLPA vote this week as to whether it will be adopted for the upcoming season, as the hybrid icing measure already has the support of the league’s GMs.