The American Hockey League is once again serving as a testing ground for potential new NHL rules. Recent rule changes such as the goaltender restricted area, 4-on-4 overtime and the post-overtime shootout were tried in the AHL first. This year’s test case is “hybrid” icing, which is a combination of “touch” and “no-touch” icing.
“Touch” icing, in place in most North American leagues including the NHL, states that if any player shoots the puck from behind the center red line beyond the goal line of the opposing team, play will be stopped as soon as a skater from the opposing team touches the puck.
“No-touch” icing, used in international competition and many European leagues, mandates that play is stopped as soon as the puck crosses the goal line, rather than once an opposing player touches the puck.
With player safety as the main focus, hybrid icing was put in place by the AHL on a trial basis until mid-November. Once a defensive player reaches the end zone face-off dots, the play is whistled dead. If an offensive player reaches the dots first, play continues. The new rule is meant to eliminate the high-speed collisions associated with touch icing, where two players sprint the length of the ice to try to reach the puck first.
As with any new rule, there is a “feeling out” period, but Sound Tigers defenseman Travis Hamonic says that players are adjusting to the new rule.
“I think that everyone is getting accustomed to it,” Hamonic said. “As a d-man it’s nice that the rule is there to protect you. You see a lot of d-men get seriously injured. Plays like that are scary because a bad enough collision could end your career.”
The rule also has some built-in grey area. On plays where a puck is rimmed around the boards, the linesmen’s judgment comes into play. In this scenario, even if a defenseman reaches the dots first, icing may be waived if the lineman believes that a forward on the other side is more likely to reach the puck first.
Sound Tigers Head Coach Scott Pellerin says these instances can be confusing, as players are looking around to see if a call has been made or not.
“The referees are looking at who’s at the faceoff dot first and where the puck is, trying to make that quick decision,” Pellerin said. “We had a situation this weekend where guys weren’t sure why the icing wasn’t called. The puck went around the net, all the way to the other side, and we thought our guy was first to the dot on the original side. Their guy was closest to the dot on the far side where the puck ended up going, and we didn’t know what had happened.”
Hamonic believes that nuance of the rule is something that forwards could take advantage of.
“I think forwards are smart and might try and dump it and have their second forward rush down the other side to beat out the icing,” Hamonic said. “With every rule there’s a feeling-out process, then a strategic process that takes place and you try to use that to your advantage. I think some teams may even put it in a game plan.”
In November, the AHL will re-evaluate the new rule’s effectiveness, and determine whether to implement it for the remainder of the season or return to “touch” icing. If the league determines the rule to be a successful change, it is possible that the NHL will adopt it someday. If they do, many defensemen like Hamonic will be in favor of the change.
“It’s nice to know the league is recognizing players’ safety,” Hamonic said. “There are times when I’ve been run through the boards on an icing. That kind of thing doesn’t have any place in the game.”
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