Back in 1996, University of Michigan forward Mike Legg famously pulled off a lacrosse-style goal in a tournament game against Minnesota, en route to a National Championship.
Though Legg never made it to the NHL, the move he popularized eventually did. Carolina Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov scored with the move against the Calgary Flames on October 29. He duplicated the feat on December 17 against the Winnipeg Jets. Nashville’s Filip Forsberg become the second player to successfully execute the maneuver when he scored against the Oilers in January.
Some questioned the legality of the play – even going to far as to question whether the league might consider banning lacrosse-style goals.
“It’s not a high stick – it’s a skill play,” said Calgary Flames goaltender Cam Talbot. “There’s nothing illegal about it right now. … I don’t see any reason to take it out of the game – it makes it exciting.”
Under the current NHL rulebook, the goals are perfectly legal, provided the player plays the puck with a stick below shoulder height and scores with a stick below the crossbar. With more lacrosse-style attempts likely on the way, the NHL recently sent a reminder to its officials on the legality of the plays.
The league sent a memo to its officials about the “Michigan”/“Svechnikov” lacrosse-style goal reminding officials that any goal scorer must have his stick below shoulder level when possessing the puck and below the crossbar when putting it home. Otherwise, the stick is in an illegal position.
The tricky part is that you have two different rules for two different parts of the play. Players must play the puck with a stick below shoulder height, but can only score a goal when the puck is contacted below the height of the crossbar.
Rule 24.2, under penalty shots, specifically addresses the move in the context of penalty shots and shootouts, though the same principles apply.
The lacrosse-like move whereby the puck is picked up on the blade of the stick and “whipped” into the net shall be permitted provided the puck is not raised above the height of the shoulders at any time and when released, is not carried higher than the crossbar.
They’re legal, if they’re done right. Of course, that won’t always be the case. Here’s how lacrosse-style goals are addressed in the National Hockey League rule book.
Pucks Played With A High Stick
Rule 80.1 addresses pucks played with a high stick. The guideline for this rule is shoulder height.
Batting the puck above the normal height of the shoulders with a stick is prohibited. When a puck is struck with a high stick and subsequently comes into the possession and control
of a player from the offending team (including the player who made contact with the puck), either directly or deflected off any player or official, there shall be a whistle.
Cradling the puck on the blade of the stick (like lacrosse) above the normal height of the shoulders shall be prohibited and a stoppage of play shall result.
Keep that puck below shoulder height, and you’re in the clear.
Goals Scored With A High Stick
High-stick goals are covered in a few different sections of the rule book.
Rule 80 covers high-sticking on goal-scoring plays. From 80.3:
When an attacking player causes the puck to enter the opponent’s goal by contacting the puck above the height of the crossbar, either directly or deflected off any player or official, the goal shall not be allowed. The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick. If the puck makes contact with the stick at or below the level of the crossbar and enters the goal, this goal shall be allowed.
Rule 78.5 calls for goals to be disallowed when “the puck has entered the net after making contact with an attacking player’s stick that is above the height of the crossbar. Where the puck makes contact with the stick is the determining factor.”
High-sticking penalties are handled in Rule 60, which also includes 60.5 on high-stick goals.
An apparent goal scored by an attacking player who strikes the puck with his stick carried above the height of the crossbar of the goal frame shall not be allowed. The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick. If the puck makes contact with the stick at or below the level of the crossbar and enters the goal, this goal shall be allowed.
All three rules are consistent in their application and in their standard: goals must be scored by a stick below the crossbar, and it’s where the stick contacts the puck that matters.
Reviewing Lacrosse-Style Goals
Ah yes, video review. Like all goals, those scored lacrosse-style are subject to review, but it gets a little tricky depending on where the potential high stick occurred.
For pucks played with a high stick (e.g. cradled above shoulder height), those would be considered missed stoppages under Rule 80.1. Those would be eligible for a Coach’s Challenge.
Where goals are scored with a high stick (e.g. above the crossbar), those reviews would have to come from the league. Coaches are not able to challenge a high stick on a goal.
Of course, lacrosse-style goals happen in one fluid motion, where the puck is lifted, played, and tucked in. The challenging part – no pun intended – will come when a lacrosse-style goal is disputed for being scored with a high stick. Working backwards on the rules around review and challenges, here’s how it breaks down:
Coaches can only challenge if the puck was played above the shoulders. If the concern is around the scoring – release of the puck relative to the crossbar – that’s a league review. Coaches cannot challenge the goal being scored above crossbar height.
We haven’t seen the last of lacrosse-style goals in the NHL.
We also haven’t yet seen them overturned, either by the league or via coach’s challenge.
Svechnikov may have been the first to score one. It’s just a matter of time until one is overturned.