Wait, It Wasn’t a Goal? // Hockey But Dumber №7

What extenuating circumstances can make a goal…not a goal.

Suppose your team just scored a goal — the puck was in the opponent’s net, the goal horn sounded, your players cellied, etc. But then the game stopped. The opposing coach was yelling something. The refs looked uncertain, and eventually announced that the goal was “under review”.

What the heck does that mean?

Well, just because your team scored a goal doesn’t mean it will actually count as a goal. If a coach or player caught any one of a multitude of illegal actions that might negate the goal, the team could call a “coach’s challenge”. This forces the refs to review footage of the play, with the aid of more video reviewers at the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto. (But, if the goal was scored legally, the goal-scoring team gets a two-minute power play — more on that in a later article.)

Offside

An offside infraction occurs before the play that results in a goal even begins. In fact, it occurs in transition — when a team is trying to move from the neutral zone to the offensive zone.

The offside rule basically ensures that no players can enter the offensive zone before the player with the puck. Specifically, every skater on the attacking team must be behind or touching the blue line until the puck crosses the blue line. If a player is “offside” — that is, he skates into the offensive zone prior to the puck — the whistle is blown and the play restarts with a faceoff in the neutral zone.

There is, however, some wiggle room with this rule. Take a look at the clip below from the 2021–22 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

At first glance, it seems like the play (which eventually led to a goal) was offside. Valeri Nichushkin (#13) was already in the offensive zone when Cale Makar (#8) carried the puck across the line. However, after the puck entered the offensive zone, Makar didn’t touch it until Nichuskin had circled back behind the blue line. That’s the catch — a play doesn’t become offside until a member of the attacking team regains control of the puck. If the puck carrier briefly takes his stick off the puck, and that’s enough time for everyone else to get out of the zone…well, then it’s still legal.

Side note: don’t panic. Most offside calls won’t be as complicated as the example I just referenced; more often it’s a case of “was his skate actually touching the blue line?”

Goaltender Interference

What’s the golden rule of hockey? Don’t touch the goalie, or you will pay. Usually, this rule is enforced by vigilante justice — a goaltender’s teammates will scuffle with any opposing player who gets too close to the net. In instances of goalie interference, though, the refs get involved.

In the scenario above, the New York Rangers (in blue) technically scored a goal. But Kaapo Kakko (#24) bulldozed Casey DeSmith (the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie, in white and yellow) in the process, stopping him from having any chance of saving the shot. Whenever a goaltender is prevented from playing his position — gets hit, pushed, or otherwise “interfered” with — goalie interference is called, and any subsequent goals are nullified. Thus, the Rangers-Penguins game remained tied at three apiece.

High Sticking

Skaters hate getting sticks to the face. Goalies, too, hate getting sticks to the face. The point: everyone hates getting sticks to the face.

Unfortunately, a very popular method of scoring goals is deflection—positioning a player right in front of the goalie, where he can redirect shots. The problem is, this results in skaters waving sticks around in front of the goaltender’s face. And this, in turn, increases the chances of the goalie getting hit (or, even worse, poked in the eye) by an errant stick blade.

Thus, the high-sticking rule negates any goal that is scored by a player hitting the puck anywhere above the crossbar. To demonstrate this, I present…a pretty cool goal that was just barely not high-sticking.

Sonny Milano (#12 in white) does, in fact, bat the puck out of the air. However, he does so legally. Keep in mind that high-sticking is determined by where the puck is played. As long as the player’s stick is under the crossbar at the moment it hits the puck, the goal still stands. As such, the example above was a good goal because Milano’s stick impacted the puck below the crossbar.

Kicking

Hockey is not soccer. After all, while kicking with cleats may be mostly safe, kicking with blades on one’s feet is most definitely not (even with all the padding and such). Thus, another rule was made: a goal cannot be scored via a “distinct kicking motion”.

What is a distinct kicking motion? It’s…complicated. The puck can legally be deflected off a player’s skate, so long as it isn’t moving. But when the skate moves to the puck, then things get messy. For example, take Blake Coleman’s non-goal below:

The puck trickles past Mike Smith (the Edmonton Oilers’ goalie, #41 in white). It probably would’ve crossed the goal line anyway…except that Coleman (#20 in red) deflected it in, just for good measure. Fans can (and have) debated whether that deflection was a distinct kicking motion. (Many believe that he was trying to stop his momentum, rather than kick the puck.) But since the refs thought Coleman’s deflection appeared to be more of an intentional kicking motion than a stop, the goal was called back.

Now, you should know better than to get too excited whenever a goal is supposedly scored. There are always many ways, as mentioned in this article, that it could be called back. The good news? We’re moving on to less depressing topics — starting with all the special places in a hockey rink. It’s kind of like a continuation of article 2…but, y’know, more complicated.

Questions? Most of them will be answered later in the series, but feel free to leave them in the comments for now.

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Elisa Chen

Elisa Chen

Diehard Flyers fan and creator of Hockey But Dumber — a series designed to get new hockey fans acquainted with the game.