Sharks defenseman Jason Demers accidentally punched linesman Brian Mach after a double minor penalty hit by Dallas agitator Steve Ott
There were warning signs that Saturday night’s game between the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars could get out of control. Already a pivotal division battle between two less than friendly teams, the playoff atmosphere boiled over on the ice late in the second period when Dallas Stars agitator Steve Ott took a 15-20 foot run at Sharks defenseman Jason Demers at the south end of the rink. The San Jose players exploded in retaliation against Ott, but linesman Brian Mach and referee Wes McCauley stepped in to prevent any furthur hostilities. Undeterred, Demers threw one unsuccessful punch through traffic, but a second punch directed at Ott landed square on the visor of the linesman Mach.
Demers immediately apologized, and he apparently apologized again as Mach lead him off the ice and into the locker room with three seconds left in the period. Referees Wes McCauley and Brian Pochmara gave Demers two minutes for roughing, and awarded Ott a 4-minute double minor for roughing and charging. “I wasn’t looking at (Mach) at all, I was looking through him to Ott,” Demers said after the game. “(Mach) sort of jumped in the way. He knew, and he was fine with it. I didn’t have any intention of doing that, it was inadvertant. Things happen in the heat of the moment. He was alright with it. I talked to him and apologized, and we went from there.”
It was an unfortunate play, but one that Sporting News columnist Ray Slover believes may result in futhur attention from NHL disciplinarians. A fine or a suspension may be an overreaction, especially if the above video is taken out of context to the game itself. There was bad blood on the ice after a pair of late collapses against Dallas earlier in the season, one rife with taunting from Stars center Mike Ribeiro during and after the game. Saturday night at HP Pavilion the game started to get out of hand in the first period, as noted by a pair of pre-incident tweets from this blog here and here. Linesman Brian Mach and Mark Wheler were tossing centerman out of the faceoff circle one or two at a time. They repeatedly sat in the faceoff circle barking at defenseman and wingers, who would often re-engage in extra curricular stick work shortly thereafter.
Referees Wes McCauley and Brian Pochmara had an equally forgettable evening. The rigid structure put in place by the linesman broke up any flow in the first period, and the referees compounded that problem by letting anything go in front of the net. The referees had problems with a muffled in-house mic, and they proceeded to yell out calls presumably so the fans in the stands could hear. It didn’t work. A pair of first period scuffles, one a big hit in front of the Sharks bench, and another with a scrum in front of Kari Lehtonen, only fueled the escalation. A few minutes after Hockey Night in Canada panelist Mike Milbury railed against fighting in hockey/violent collisions, and Coaches Corner analyst Don Cherry used video of a charging play by former Shark Mike Grier to rail against hits from behind, there was clear evidence on the ice of the referees losing control of a game.
Either the refs police action by throwing players in the box, the players can police themselves, or something bad can happen and the league can step in after the fact. The referees and players did not use option A or option B, and the bitter play on the ice got worse. A wrestling takedown at the side of the Dallas net, and an extended series of borderline stickwork by both teams preceded the late second period hit by Steve Ott. A cut and bloodied Brenden Morrow (occured earlier in the period), pleaded for a longer call on Demers. Joe Thornton appeared angry that a dangerous hit by Ott was worthy of a simple double minor. The last word goes to Steve Ott, who was on the bench laughing at Sharks players late in the third period with a 3-2 lead.
Given the unpredictable track record for the NHL front office dispensing justice to NHL games in the frontier territories, you can role the dice on whether Demers or Ott will be the beneficiary of extrajudicial league remediation. Joe Thornton was suspended two games earlier this season for a Rule 48 hit to St Louis Blues forward David Perron. Sharks center Scott Nichol was afforded a four game suspension for a high hit on Phoenix Coyotes forward David Schlemko. According to Pro Sports Transactions, Dallas Stars left wing Steve Ott has received 3 league suspensions totaling 6 games, and a $1,000 fine for a charging major and game misconduct.
Video courtesy of Comast Sportsnet California. Comcast analyst Mindy Bach calls the play in the clip.
[Update] Sharks defenseman Jason Demers will not face any supplementary discipline from the league office, as per TSN’s Darren Dreger on Monday morning. According to Dreger, NHL director of officiating Terry Gregson immediately spoke with linesman Brian Mach after the incident, and in addition to Demers apology the officiating crew agreed they may have stepped in too early. “Gregson says Demers did not direct the punch at the linesman and therefore, rule 40 – abuse of an official – doesn’t apply,” Dreger said.
[Update2] Correction: it was linesman #76 Brian Mach and #56 Mark Wheler who stepped in to break up the action.