TRIPPING & HOOKING

 

Tripping and hooking are two nuisance infractions in hockey. They are not considered serious with respect to potential for injury, but can be serious in that they are techniques employed by players to impede the progress or movement of opponents. Often, a tripping or hooking action is the result of a player being beaten by a faster, more skilled opponent. They are also considered to be lazy, selfish penalties because of the fact that a player will trip or hook instead of trying to skate harder to catch his opponent.

Referees have difficulty with tripping and hooking precisely because they occur so often during the course of a game. If you call every trip and hook, the penalty box would be full.

How many times during the course of a game do you see a puck carrier skating through the neutral zone hooked or tripped with no penalty call being made? Next time this happens, take a look and see if there are other opponents who had to be faced besides the one doing the hooking or tripping. Usually, there are at least two or three others who stand between the puck carrier and the net. Unless there is a clear path to the net, most referees will view a hook or a trip in the neutral zone as a non-critical infraction which does not warrant a penalty because of the fact that it did not take away a scoring opportunity.  

If you say that the rule book still call it a trip or a hook regardless of where the infraction took place, you are correct. Nevertheless, the nature of the game today does not allow for “calling by the book” unless a referee wants to see five or six players from each side sitting in the penalty box all night.

However, if a player is tripped in the neutral zone and this trip has caused him to turn the puck over to the other team, thereby creating a 2 on 1 or a breakaway, you are more likely to see the arm go up and watch the referee assess a tripping or hooking call against the offending player. This is why you may see referees put their hands up a couple of seconds late on a neutral zone trip or hook. The referee likes to see what has developed from the trip before he assesses a penalty. A hooking call in the neutral zone that does nothing to change the flow of the game, or does not give one team an advantage over the other is not likely to be called. Hockey purists may disagree with this philosophy, however it falls once again within the realm of game management and the best referees are the best game managers.

An example of this occurred in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics Men’s Gold Medal Game.  A Canadian player tripped an American player who was trying to skate down the ice with no teammates behind him, and then Mario Lemieux picked up the puck and would have had a breakaway.  All the fans were screaming and yelling, not because of the penalty call, but because the referee put his arm up a couple of seconds after the actual trip.  He put his arm up in the air when Lemieux picked up the puck. In other words, the very experienced referee would not have called the penalty had the action not caused a dangerous turnover. The referee had no other choice but to make the call or else a goal may have been scored as a result of Lemieux getting an unfair advantage from the trip. This is why you may see referees put their hands up a couple of seconds late on a neutral zone trip or hook.  The referee likes to see what has developed from the trip before he assesses a penalty. A hooking call in the neutral zone which does nothing to change the flow of the game or does not give one team an advantage over the other is not worth calling.  Hockey purists may disagree with this philosophy, however it falls once again within the realm of game management and the best referees are the best game managers.

Mind you, if the player really yanked on the puck carrier causing his feet to fly in the air then the referee does not have much of a choice but to call the penalty since everybody has seen it.  The iffy trips and hooks that cause players to fall down and turnover the puck are the ones that tend to go uncalled or cause the referee to raise his arm a little late.  These are the trips and hooks where the referees like to see how the play is going to develop before assessing a penalty.

You are more likely to see an iffy trip or hook called as soon as it happens if it occurs in front of the net or if a player only has one player to beat to get a good scoring opportunity.  The greater the chance of a player being denied a good scoring opportunity, the greater the chance of a penalty being called.  Hooking, tripping, clutching and grabbing have increased so much in the game of hockey today that the number of goals scored has been drastically reduced. Hockey is a defensive game today, whereas it was once a game of offense. As a result, referees are more likely to punish a player who takes a good scoring opportunity away, than a player who tripped a player that would not have an impact on the score. 

You are probably thinking, that’s not right. What if the player in the neutral zone hadn’t been tripped? He might have been able to get around the other players and score a goal?  Maybe.  But the opportunity to score is better the closer you get to the net. This is why you may see the same type of trip or hook called in the defending zone around the net, but not in the neutral zone.

The same thing holds true for players who are trying to break out of their own end.  The closer the turnover occurs around the net, the greater the chance that the penalty will be called against the attacking team for tripping or hooking a defending player near his net.

Before you fall victim to the urge to yell at a referee for a non-call, make sure you ask yourself if the infraction had any real impact on the outcome of the developing play. Sometimes being a good referee is all about knowing when to keep the whistle out of your mouth.