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Olympics

International Hockey Referees Continue To Struggle With The Concept Of A Goal

USA's Alexandra Carpenter (C) celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a goal against Finland during their women's preliminary round group A match of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games ice hockey competition, at the Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing on February 3, 2022.
Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Olympic hockey got off to an electric start Thursday afternoon in Beijing, by which I mean it took an excruciating NINE! MINUTES! to review Canada’s first goal against Switzerland in the first group stage game of the women’s hockey tournament after the Swiss challenged it for being scored with a high stick. (And nine minutes later … the goal call on the ice stood.) The officiating fun continued into Team USA’s late-night game against Finland, which USA won, 5-1, and then also won again, 5-2, after a funny bit of confusion.

The Finns, trailing 5-1, were on the power play with a little over two minutes left in the third period. A dangerous shot from forward Susanna Tapani looked like it just pinged off the post, and the official behind the net made the no-goal hand motion. Play continued without a stoppage for the remaining two minutes, the final horn sounded, and announcer Kenny Albert declared Team USA victorious in their Olympic opener. Nice! The game now being officially over, the American broadcast went to the postgame panel and then to commercial. Hockey fans across the country, rejoicing in this 5-1 victory but mourning the tournament-ending injury to alternate captain Brianna Decker, turned off their TVs or just stopped paying attention, due to the game being, as you know, officially over.

It wasn’t over. The broadcast returned from commercial and there was more hockey being played on the screen—not a re-air, not a highlight package, but the final two minutes of the game, for a second time. Back in Beijing, the officials had reviewed the Tapani shot off the post and seen that she had gotten the puck past U.S. goaltender Maddie Rooney, and that the game would need to be started up again from the 2:20-remaining mark. The puck had ricocheted off the camera in the net and back out.

There would be no furious two-minute, four-goal rally for Finland, but at least they got their second goal counted, and they seemed quite happy about it in the celebration captured on the Finnish broadcast. Perhaps their joy was due to the fact that this wasn’t the first time the refs tried to screw over their team in a game against the United States in an international tournament. The last time, the refs succeeded: Finland had an OT winner taken away due to an iffy goaltender interference call in the gold medal game at the 2019 world championships.

I am seeing an alarming trend here. Just a few months ago at the 2021 world championships, Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored the tournament-winning goal in overtime against the U.S., didn’t get a goal call on the ice, and everyone was just awkwardly skating around for another minute until the review buzzer finally sounded. Allow me to offer a solution to this problem of belated calls: The on-ice officials could rule every shot a goal, let the players celebrate in the moment, and then simply take the goals away later, as necessary.

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