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Find out how instant replay became such a large part of the NHL today

Thursday, 10.28.2010 / 6:33 PM / News
By Dana Fjermestad
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Controlling the play inside Tampa Bay’s defensive zone, Islanders defenseman Mike Mottau passed to Frans Nielson who was patiently positioned just outside Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis’ crease.  Nielson took a shot that was deflected off Ellis.  There to attack the loose puck was Matt Moulson, however, the goal was not recognized and play continued.  The whistle was finally blown 1:32 after the play subsided and Moulson’s shot went to video review.   After careful consideration by the National Hockey League’s off-ice officials in Toronto, Ontario, the outcome of the Oct. 21st battle between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning was determined. 

While the officials made their decision, fans watched replay after replay of Moulson’s shot from the comfort of their couch and clearly saw the puck cross the goal line before Ellis swiped it out.  Like the fans, officials watched the shot from multiple angels at various speeds and determined that the goal was good and ended the game in favor or the Islanders 3-2.

Instant replay is undoubtedly a crucial part of the way fans watch and officials call professional hockey games.  Plays can be reviewed through high definition cameras with slow motion features, at every angle.  Fans can watch a play seconds later and officials can review a questionable call quickly to ensure the game is fair, however, watching games with this unbelievable feature was not always possible.   

Instant replay became available during 1950s with the creation of the video tape or VHS as it was the first time it was possible to record video footage and instantly play it back. The technology, however, was not mainstreamed to the public until 1971. 

Realizing the new recording technology would change the way people viewed television, many sports teams and venues began incorporating VCR technology into their telecasts.  Consequently, the breakthrough in recording technologies coincided with the construction of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in 1971.  Advertisements promoting the new arena stated new ‘instant replay’ technology would be installed, giving fans an experience no other venue could offer.  This would have made the Coliseum the first venue with instant replay capabilities, making it a leader in innovation. 

Professional sports leagues, including the National Hockey League, were slow to adopt the new technology to help officiate games.  At that time, the on-ice officials were the sole determinates of whether or not a goal was scored. 

“When there was no such thing as instant replay, you just relied on the goal judges and the referees,” said Butch Goring, former New York Islanders center and current MSG Network broadcaster. 

A goal judge sat behind each net and turned on a light to signal a goal was scored. 

“If the goal judge turned on the light or if the referee thought a goal was scored and they didn’t agree, the two officials would communicate and make a decision,” said Jeff Weintraub, the Chief Off-Ice Official for the New York Islanders.

As the years flew by, technology continued to advance, creating frustration for players and fans watching replays of questionable calls, proving officials wrong.

“There were goals that went in and goals that didn’t,” said Goring.  “Some calls were missed.  That was the human element of the sport.  You knew the rules going in and you accepted them.”

Arguments for and against the implementation of instant replay in the NHL were strong. Some felt that adding this new technology would take away from the human element of hockey.  Others felt reviewing the official’s call would slow down the pace of the game.  In the end, technology and a 99.9 percent accuracy rate of getting the call correct, won the argument.

Instant replay was officially integrated into the NHL on June 24, 1991.  The new video review policy was designed to determine whether or not the puck crossed the goal line, if the puck touched an official before entering the net, if the puck was kicked into the net, if the puck crossed the line before the net was dislodged or if the puck crossed the goal line before the period was over. 

Since the integrations in 1991, instant replay has become a deeply rooted aspect of professional hockey and ensures the fairness and validity of the sport. 

“Instant replay gives referees a sense of security to make the calls,” said Dwayne Roloson, current goal tender for the New York Islanders.  “Especially the tough ones.” 

Even with the ability to simplify tough calls, the NHL found flaws in their video review system.  Arguments were made that the home team officials could have a bias against the visiting team, giving home teams unprecedented advantages.

In response, the NHL created the War Room to eliminate any biased calls beginning in 2004.  The War Room located in Toronto, Ontario, served as a third party official.  It consisted of a varying number of league officials based upon the number of games scheduled on a particular date.     
“The basic process was when a goal was scored, the in-house video goal judge would review the goal immediately,” said Weintraub.  “If there was a question of whether or not it was a goal, we announced formal review and got Toronto involved.”

Since 2004, the video review policy has remained the same and the War Room continues to make the decision on questionable calls.  

“It’s a sense of security that they are making the right calls,” said Roloson.  “It allows in-house officials to do their job a lot better, especially when the game is on the line.”   

Technology in hockey, including instant replay, continues to advance as players, officials and fans find new ways to adapt creative innovations to the game.




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