In NHL's 'war room,' they know who's been bad and good
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
TORONTO -- Midway through the first period of a game last month, Washington Capitals winger Chris Clark raced to the Ottawa Senators' net in search of a scoring chance.
Unable to get his stick on a pass from teammate Brian Pothier, Clark knocked the puck into the net with his left skate for a goal -- maybe. There was uncertainty as to whether Clark redirected the puck or kicked it into the net. If he kicked it, the goal wouldn't count.
Referee Marc Joannette skated over to the officials' box and put on his headset to get a ruling. The person making the decision, however, hadn't seen the goal live, and wasn't even in the same city, but rather nearly 300 miles away, watching slow-motion replays from a cramped, windowless office in downtown Toronto.
Before Clark's goal counted on the scoresheet -- it was determined that there was no "distinct kicking motion" -- the play was reviewed in the league's video replay room, where every game is always on. The smell of pepperoni pizza sometimes permeates the place, which resembles a fantasy hockey geek's dream den. The "war room," as it's often called, is small, measuring only 12 by 36 feet, but the decisions made there loom large.
The NHL began using video replay in 1991, but until six years ago, reviews of disputed goals were carried out by part-time, off-ice officials in each arena.
The replay system was moved to Toronto prior to the 2003-04 season at the urging of the league's general managers, who sought greater consistency on reviewed goals, particularly those suspected of being kicked into the net.
NHL vice presidents Colin Campbell and Mike Murphy and their team make the final rulings on goals by watching the plays, rewinding, then watching again, sometimes utilizing as many as eight camera angles. Murphy estimates that 400 goals in 1,230 games are reviewed each season.
"We try to get a consensus," he said.
Now, the league has "hockey men making the decisions," Capitals General Manager McPhee said, "and it's the same men making the decisions for all arenas."
Like most general managers, McPhee doesn't always agree with the decisions made in Toronto, whether it's a disputed goal or a controversial suspension.
Then again, he said, "it's a difficult job."
The dean of discipline
Questionable goals are only a fraction of what's under scrutiny in the war room.