Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves was tossed from Friday’s pivotal Game 7 against Vancouver for an illegal check to the head of Canucks center Tyler Motte.

The hit came with 3:30 remaining in the second period. Motte was being pursued by Paul Stastny. Reaves moved in from the opposite direction. Motte never saw him coming.

Reaves caught him up high, with his shoulder – possibly his back – making contact with Motte’s head.  In any case, the head appeared to be the main point of contact.



Motte went down. Referee Chris Rooney’s arm went up.

Reaves headed off to the penalty box as Rooney announced the major penalty and that the play was under review.

New for 2020-21 in the NHL, referees now have the option to review major or match penalties, with the option to reduce the penalty to a minor.  In this case, Rooney and referee Dan O’Rourke confirmed the call.

From Rule 21.5:

Referees shall review all plays that result in the assessment of any Match Penalty for the purpose of confirming (or modifying) their original call on the ice.

Such reviews will be conducted exclusively by the Referee(s) on the ice in consultation with other On-Ice Official(s), as appropriate […]  Communication between the Situation Room and the On-Ice Officials shall be limited to contact between the appropriate Game Logger in the Situation Room and the Referee to ensure the Referee is receiving any and all video they might request, as well as the appropriate replay angles they may need to review the penalty call.

There shall be no other contact or consultation between the On-Ice Official(s) and the NHL Situation Room, or with any other non-game participant.

The Referee shall have the following options following such review: (i) confirming his original Match Penalty call; or (ii) reducing his original Match Penalty call to a lesser penalty for the same infraction.

Of course, Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer is all to familiar with that rule. He was behind the opposing bench last season when a major penalty call turned the tide for his Sharks to make an incredible Game 7 comeback, scoring four goals on the five-minute power play.  That controversial call may have prompted the rule change to permit ref review of major penalties prior to the start of this season.

Reaves ended up with a match penalty for Illegal Check to the Head, ending his night.

It’s worth noting that an illegal check to the head can only be a minor or a match penalty.

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.

In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

48.2 Minor Penalty – For violation of this rule, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

48.3 Major Penalty – There is no provision for a major penalty for this rule.

48.4 Game Misconduct Penalty – There is no provision for a game misconduct for this rule.

48.5 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head. If deemed appropriate, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion.

Don’t be surprised if Reaves has a voicemail waiting for him after the game from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety…

If we’re making the call, he’s sitting out for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars – possibly longer.