New York Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck was working hard to create some offense. With his Isles leading by one, Clutterbuck charged into the offensive zone. As he attempted a shot of goal from the slot, his stick snapped. Clutterbuck, now off-balance and being checked by Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, made a half-hearted attempt to play the puck with what was left of hig twig before turning and making an amazing skate pass to Islanders’ captain John Tavares, wide open in the slot. J.T. collected his own rebound and tucked it past goaltender John Gibson, giving New York a 2-0 lead over the Ducks.
An impressive play by Clutterbuck, for sure. Also an illegal one.
You can’t participate in the play when you’ve got a broken stick. It’s not even about whether you actually attempt to use the stick, but the fact that you’re still holding it. From the NHL rule book, under section 10.3 – Broken Stick:
A broken stick is one which, in the opinion of the Referee, is unfit for normal play.
A player without a stick may participate in the game. A player whose stick is broken may participate in the game provided he drops the broken stick. A minor penalty shall be imposed for an infraction of this rule.
There’s no argument that Clutterbuck’s stick – or the remaining half of the shaft, at least – was not fit for normal play.
Clutterbuck was required to drop it or toss it aside, as is permitted under Rule 53.2 which covers throwing equipment:
When the player discards the broken portion of a stick […] by tossing it or shooting it to the side of the ice (and not over the boards) in such a way as will not interfere with play or opposing player, no penalty will be imposed for so doing.
Playing with a broken stick is not reviewable. The infraction occurred prior to the goal being scored. The only way it can be called – like nearly any other player penalty – is in real-time by the on-ice officials.
Of course, the whole play was remarkably quick. Clutterbuck was so focused on the puck, that – in that fleeting moment – it likely never occurred to him to let go. One can’t fault the officials, as the bang-bang play went from a broken stick to a rebound goal in the blink of an eye.
It’s an uncommon call, especially with how frequently sticks break these days. Center Ryan O’Reilly, then with the Colorado Avalanche, was whistled for playing with a broken stick back in 2014. It was his only penalty of the 2013-14 season, en route to his winning the Lady Byng Trophy. It’s safe to say that’s one piece of hardware Clutterbuck won’t be vying for this season.