It may well be impossible to help Don Cherry save himself from himself, but here’s to hoping that people aren’t taking him too seriously (on many points, some of them hockey related), but especially concerning the issue of so called ‘no-touch’ icing. Now, no one wants to see anyone get hurt (generally), and that includes atheletes while they are playing a game for our entertainment. To say, however, that blowing the whistle automatically on an icing is going to cut down on potentially dangerous, injury causing situations is very debatable. But the effect such a rule change would have on the game would be so counter intuitive and detrimental, it makes you wonder why the idea has had any legs whatsoever.
Let’s suppose that the NHL changes the rule. Don’t you think players would then become as expert as curling skips at sliding that puck to just the right spot, short of the back redline. At any rate, that is just it; there will be plenty of occasions where the puck won’t have enough steam to get across the line, same as now, and the mad dash will still be on. And with no-touch icing, you can bet the attacking players will still have the incentive to get to the puck, but now to prevent the puck from crossing the line. The players will still be going hell-bent-for-leather to get there. Where is the injury reduction potential in this scenerio?
The point is, the game of hockey is always going to have players in spirited or contested pursuit of open pucks. That, and the reverse, ie; puck control, sums up the game. The race for the puck on a potential icing call is simply the most dramatic display, if you will, of the pursuit game. But any and all challanges for open pucks are unpredictable and are potentially injurious.
Hockey is great because of the constant and continuous action. Unlike many other sports, there is no ‘out of bounds’ in hockey and that is what creates the speed and drama of the game. The potential is there for something to always be happening. And the underlying reason for this is that the whole ice surface is (as it should be) potentially in play. To introduce no-touch icing would be to effectively chop both ends of the rink off and box in the action of the game disasterously. It would eliminate a key dimension to the game.
The problem the league doesn’t want to really deal with is the lack of space. Until they adopt a bigger ice surface (a la European or Olympic size) they will always be considering rule changes to get around this very problem. Removing the center line as far as two line off sides is concerned is a case in point. If they played on bigger sized rinks maybe they wouldn’t have needed such a change. But now that we have that, you want to go and make icing an automatic? This would have an equally constaining and deadening effect on the action similar to what was, before the center redline was ostensibly removed. Why? Because teams are still using trapping systems,and really, that is what the defense are doing when they line up along the blue line and try to stand the opposing team up before they can get into the zone. Sometimes shooting the puck from your side of center and having a speedy winger jump in behind the defense who are not anticipating the play, is a great strategy. It takes advantage of the whole ice surface, often leads to scoring chances and helps keep the trapping strategists honest. This wouldn’t happen in Don Cherry’s world.
This is the main reason I object to the idea of no-touch icing. It would slow the game down and make for the same dull boxed in hockey we’ve been all too familiar with. Keep hockey free flowing and dynamic. If a team can shoot the puck all the way down the ice and have the cunning and speed to get there to retrieve it first, this is a good thing. Safeguard the use of the whole ice surface. Please, lets not hear of ‘no-touch’ icing again.
If there were to be any modifications made regarding icing calls then it should be that body positioning/jostling should be discouraged by calling interference more stringently–and make it so that both players must also play the puck initially after the puck crosses the redline, not allowing the defensive zone player a free shot at the offensive player after the former realizes he can’t get to the puck first. This is, I believe, all you can do.