This was a strange one.
No whistle sounded after the Czechs touched the puck in the attacking zone on a delayed offside, leading to an empty net goal by Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship.
Trailing 2-1 in the final minute of play with their goaltender pulled, Czechia’s Jakub Zboril attempted a homerun pass from the defensive end to forward Dominik Kubalik.
Their timing was off, as Kubalik entered the attacking zone ahead of the puck. Slovakian linesman Simon Synek put his arm up, signaling the delayed offside. When Canada hesitated playing the puck – possibly to run some time off the clock – Kubalik touched up for a whistle with 43 seconds remaining.
Instead of blowing the whistle, Synek gestured to Kubalik to exit the zone as Canada took possession of the loose puck. Moments later, it was in the empty net, securing a 3-1 win for Team Canada.
So what exactly happened on this play?
Czechia was offside
There’s no question Kubalik was offside, having crossed the blueline in advance of the puck. The IIHF’s offside rule is similar to the NHL’s. From Rule 83:
Players of the attacking Team must not precede the puck into the Attacking Zone. […]
If, during the course of the “Delayed Off-side”, any member of the attacking Team touches the puck, attempts to “gain possession of a loose puck”, forces the defending puck carrier further back into their own zone, or who is about to make physical contact with the defending puck carrier, the Linesperson shall stop play for the “off-side” violation.
There’s a separate section for intentional offside as well:
An “intentional off-side” is one which is made for the purpose of securing a stoppage of play regardless of the reason […] If, while an “off-side call is delayed”, a Player of the offending Team deliberately touches the puck to create a stoppage of play, the Linesperson will signal an “intentional off-side”.
The only difference between a normal offside and an intentional offside is the location of the ensuing faceoff; as in the NHL, an intentional offside results in a faceoff in the offending team’s defensive end.
What about Canada’s refusal to play the puck?
Rule 72 covers players refusing to touch the puck, which Canada clearly did on this play. While the rule doesn’t specifically address delayed offside plays, it is consistently applied in similar situations: hand passes, high sticks, icing, and penalties. In all those cases, the official is instructed to blow the whistle for a faceoff.
[When a] Teammate elects not to play the puck to avoid the stoppage of play, and the opposing Team also abstains from playing the puck (perhaps to allow time to expire on a penalty), the Referee shall stop the play and order the resulting “face-off” at the Face-off Spot in the zone to nearest to where the play was stopped for this violation
So we’re looking at a whistle for the delayed offside… or, worst case, a whistle for refusing to play the puck. In either case, the play is stopped, and we can then debate about where the faceoff should take place.
But the play should’ve been stopped with 43 seconds remaining. Instead, Canada takes advantage to score an insurance goal, en route to a 3-1 victory.
Why didn’t Czechia challenge the play?
This play would not be eligible for a challenge.
For starters, an offside challenge only applies to an offside by the attacking team prior to a goal. Canada was not offside on their empty-netter, so Czechia clearly would’ve lost that one.
They’re not able to challenge their own missed offside at the opposite end of the ice.
Furthermore, since the incident occurred in the final minute of play, the IIHF would automatically review any situations eligible for a coach’s challenge, including goaltender interference, a missed stoppage in the attacking zone, and a missed offside entering the attacking zone prior to the goal.
None of those situations applied here.
No whistle, no challenge, no goaltender on the ice… and we get an empty-net goal for Canada.
Officials for the game were referees Andris Ansons #21 (Latvia) and Miroslav Stolc #40 (Switzerland), with linespersons Simon Synek #51 (Slovakia) and Davis Zunde #55 (Latvia).