I said this before the announcers on Thursday night, when Blake Coleman looked like he was leading Calgary 5-4 in their elimination game 5 against the Oilers. I have a habit of whispering to myself during exciting games, usually just observing a single word like “who” or “wow” or “nice” or “slashing”, but in this case, someone pressing a plastic button on my back “Kicking motion,” I muttered.
Like the “catch mechanism” for football or the “obvious and obvious error” for football, the word “distinct kicking motion” is one of those collections that has wormed its way into the minds of every hockey fan. And in the biggest game Alberta has seen in a long time, it was Flemes who squandered the chance to extend the series and let Connor McDavid crush them in overtime.
After a video review, the NHL judged that Coleman’s speed when he zoomed in on the crease, combined with a puck bouncing off his skate, was enough to cancel the goal of moving forward with six minutes left. The SportSnet clip describes the play with one of the ugliest, most obscure cop-spoken sentences I’ve ever seen: “Blake Coleman’s goal was to set a wave of after-distinct kicking motion.” Catch the excitement of play-off hockey!
What does “unique” mean? The phrase, as you can imagine, is taken orally from the League Rulebook. Here is a part of it:
37.4 Individual Kicking Motion – Drama that enters a Pak net as a direct result of an “Individual Kicking Motion” will not be ruled as a target. A “unique kicking motion” for the purpose of video review, where the video makes it clear that an attacking player intentionally kicked Pak with his foot or skate and Pak later entered the net.
I have a lot of beef here. One is the use of the word “intentional” which is not synonymous with “individual”. If intention is the key, why use “individual”? But anyway, who is there intentionally kicking the net? Every player knows that it is invalid and will be viewed under a microscope. So, no player will do that intentionally. While Coleman’s skates hit the puck as he moves forward, at no point in the play does it seem clear to me that the thought “I should kick it” goes through Coleman’s brain. If he has any conscious concerns, the first would seem to be avoiding beheadings through crossbars. Worse still, the implicit claim is that you can read someone’s mind over and over again at a slower pace.
The ever-annoying inconsistencies and confusions surrounding NHL goal-or-goal symposiums are just as difficult. What’s the difference between Coleman’s drama and this one? I’m not sure if anyone can answer with confidence.
ESPN’s own “rules analyst” Dave Jackson and general old “analyst” Brian Boucher both confidently called it a goal in the midst of a review to further dilute the water and serve as another example of the regular failure of video reviews: The One Real Truth:
To be fair, it’s just hockey. It’s a ridiculously fast game with all sorts of weird deviations that are impossible to fully absorb at full speed and often complicated in slow-motion. The fact that the replay officer deleted the goal didn’t bother me so much. What bugs me is the veil of authoritative finality surrounding this decision. According to NHL and its officials, Flames-Oilers weren’t tied up because, well, you can’t kick Pak in the net and it looks like Coleman probably did it, and some Toronto officials have decided he did. It was tied to the NHL because Coleman broke the rules with a distinctive kicking speed.
This kind of binary thinking doesn’t click with my game watching experience. Just once, I’d like to see something like this instead of a “rule analyst” segment:
“So, Gord, tell us, is this a distinct kick speed?”
“Ah, I don’t know Guy, I guess he kicked it out of the way, didn’t he?” But he’s moving so fast and so chaotically that calling it a ‘kick’ actually flattens the startling complex series of motion that Coleman’s body is going through at the moment. What a wild game this is, and a great game we’re watching. The Toronto guy just has to choose one or the other, I think. No truly rational person can claim to have the omniscient justice needed to make this call for sure. “
“You’re fired, Gord.”
Sports in North America in particular, with their hatred of bonds and their refusal to admit human error in fulfilling their responsibilities, let alone some drama. What makes the phrase “distinct kicking motion” and the like is, in an attempt to prohibit blatant violations, instead of legislating those moments of beautiful ambiguity that exist throughout all sports, which even Define This sport. A receiver is making a long throw to the sidelines, a fast base-stealer avoids a tag in seconds, a man desperately trying to skate at full speed Something Which will keep his team alive: We’ve been given the condition to watch these plays as a jury in court instead of being wide-eyed fans, and it’s less fun. Replays can get calls “correct” at least most of the time, but it still remains a bit of a superstition and a work of conjecture and instinct and opinion. It pretends that the review booth can distinguish gray areas from black and white. The results are just as unsatisfactory, but at least it took a long time.