Team USA won its fifth straight world championship, but not without controversy.
After a stunning 4-2 upset of Team Canada, Team Finland appeared to have defeated Team USA in overtime to claim the gold.
As Finland’s Jenni Hiirikoski collided with Team USA goaltender Alex Rigsby, Petra Nieminen fired the puck into the empty net.
Referee Nicole Hertrich put her arm into the air to signal a penalty on the play. Then she pointed to the net to signal a goal. Finland celebrated.
Then Hertrich donned the headset as the IIHF initiated a review of the play.
After a lengthy review, Nieminen’s goal was disallowed and play resumed. The game was eventually settled in a shootout, with Team USA claiming victory.
Finland attempted to file a formal complaint after the game, but were advised that such a move was not permitted.
The IIHF released a statement regarding the goal:
All goals that were scored during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship were reviewed by the IIHF Video Goal Judge Operations. The overtime goal scored by Team Finland against Team USA was reviewed and disallowed by the Video Goal Judge Operations, due to non-incidental goaltender interference.
Two IIHF Playing Rules were considered in this instance:
- According to IIHF Playing Rule 186 v. Goaltender and Goal/Goal Crease Disallowed: An attacking skater who makes contact other than incidental with a goaltender who is out of his goal crease during game action will be assessed a minor penalty for interference. If a goal is scored at this time, it will not count.
- According to IIHF Playing Rule 183 ii. Protection of a Goaltender: Incidental contact is allowed when the goaltender is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease, provided the attacking skater makes a reasonable effort to minimize or avoid such contact.
Taking these two rules into consideration, the IIHF Video Goal Judge Operations determined that the goal must be disallowed.
During the play, the on-ice official called a penalty for Tripping on the USA goaltender. Penalties that are assessed on-ice are not reviewable by the Video Goal Judge. The VGJ cannot assess or cancel a penalty. The decision to uphold the penalty was made by the on-ice official.
In short, the IIHF acknowledges that the contact between Finland’s Jenni Hiirikoski and USA goaltender Alex Rigsby was not merely incidental. Hiirikoski did not appear to make “a reasonable effort” to avoid contact. Based on that interpretation, Finland should have also received a penalty for goaltender interference on the play, which was not assessed by the referee and cannot be called by the video goal judge. Similarly, the tripping call against Rigsby cannot be overturned by review.
In the scope of the video goal judge’s responsibilities, the only action able to be taken via review was to disallow the goal.
“The referees on the ice had a different view on the situation than the video-goal judge,” said Finnish Ice Hockey Federation CEO Matti Nurminen. “[The] referees on the ice were giving a penalty to the goalie for tripping and they were allowing the goal. But when it goes to video review, the power and authority goes the video-goal judges. They saw it as goalie interference and made that decision.”
“IIHF president Rene Fasel said it was a judgement call. If you show it to 100 hockey [people], some per cent say it was a goal and some say it wasn’t. These are tough decision for the video goal judges. We have to respect their call.”
A lot of people are pointing to IIHF Rule 185(iii) as evidence that the decision was wrong. If you take that one rule in isolation, then it seems pretty clear that the officials made an error. But you can’t only look at that one rule. There are actually five rules that apply. In order to make this call, the referee has to consider IIHF rules 183(i), 183(ii), 184(iii), 185(iii) and 186(v). A referee always has to consider the rules as a whole and rarely does a situation fall under just one rule. So let’s break those rules down:
Rule 183(i) clearly states that contact with the opposing goaltender is not acceptable. Goalies aren’t supposed to expect contact from attacking players. So the starting point for officials is that contact with the goaltender is always illegal (except in certain circumstances). Moreover, Rule 183(ii) says that unless the attacking player makes “a reasonable attempt to minimize or avoid such contact” the player will be penalized for making contact with the goaltender. The Finnish player did not make enough of an effort to avoid the contact. Yes, she’s driving hard to the net but she doesn’t hit the brakes, turn away, or even try to shift her weight until the very last second (which is too late). Players go hard to the net but the rule is very clear: the onus is on the attacker to avoid/minimize and she doesn’t. It’s not about whether or not the attacking player meant to hit the goaltender. It’s about whether or not the attacking player made a reasonable attempt to avoid or minimize the contact, knowing full well that the goaltender is never eligible for contact.
Now Rule 184(iii) also comes into play, as the goaltender was definitely prevented from playing her position. There’s no way she could’ve returned to her position to face the second shot. And any goalie can tell you, that’s a pretty straightforward save *if* she’s in position.
Now let’s get to Rule 185(iii). This rule does NOT apply in this situation and here’s why: This rule only applies to “incidental contact”. “Incidental” means that the player makes a reasonable attempt to avoid contact but still makes some contact while playing the puck. This is not incidental contact because A) the player does not make a reasonable attempt to avoid contact and B) the player never touches the puck. Therefore, the contact cannot be incidental. Rule 185(iii) is out.
Additional angles including overhead of Finland’s disallowed goal pic.twitter.com/S8KGZFQaus
— CJ Fogler (@cjzer0) April 14, 2019
Finally, there is Rule 186(v), which affirms that if non-incidental contact occurs outside the crease, the attacking player must be penalized and the goal cannot be counted. Which brings us to our conclusion:
When the puck entered the USA net at 11:33 of the OT period, it was NOT a legal goal under IIHF rules. Overturning the call on the ice was absolutely the correct decision.
The refs did make one possible mistake: penalizing the USA goalie for tripping. It is very difficult to justify penalizing a goalie who reaches for a loose puck on a rebound with her glove. Regardless, the officials cannot use video to overturn a minor penalty (IIHF Rule 99).
Ultimately, it was a very tight play but the right call was made. It hurts for everyone. It hurts Finland and their fans, it hurts the profile of the game, and it hurts the officials(!) Even when the right call is made, the officials still carry it with them for a long time.
For those who have asked: Yes, IIHF rules also call for the Finnish player to be penalized for goalie interference. However, IIHF Rule 99 does not permit penalties to be assessed via video review. If it wasn’t called by the referees on the ice, it cannot be called.