SLASHING

 

Slashing occurs when a player uses his stick to either intimidate or contact a player with a swinging action of his stick.  A penalty will be called a slash if a player swings his stick with a certain degree of force hitting an opposing player below the shoulder level.  If the stick contacts a player above this level then High Sticking is usually called. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Any yet, the action of slashing a player has developed into an art form at all levels of hockey. It is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of all infractions and is the cause of many outbreaks in hockey games.

Slashing has been part of hockey since it was first invented. It is usually considered one of those “lazy” actions done by players who would rather slash an instead of skating after him.  Throughout the course of a game there are several slashes that occur and there are also several slashes that are not called by the Referee, even if he sees the infraction

Let’s look more closely at what a referee looks at in deciding when to call a slashing penalty.

SLICE OR SLAP

There are two ways in which a player might hit another player with a stick.  Either with the stick flat against the person in a ‘slapping fashion’ or in a ‘slicing fashion” using the edge of the hockey stick or blade. 

A hockey stick is designed like a rectangle. It has four edges/corners and four flat surfaces. When a stick is lying flat on the ground with the blade pointing up into the air, the sides of the stick are slightly longer than the bottom and top of the stick.  Think of what you would rather get hit with - the edge of the stick or the flat surfaces of the stick.

When a flat part of the stick is used to slash a player, a referee will seldom call a penalty. You can pick out this type of slash by looking at the blade when a stick hits a player. If the flat part of the stick were to contact the shin pads then it would look as though the entire blade would have contacted the shin pads at the same time. The entire blade, if it were not curved, would contact flush with the players shin pads at the exact same time.  This type of slash does not look as bad to a Referee because more of the stick is hitting the player all at once, and therefore, the body is not taking a blow in one area. The shin pad or body is taking a blow that is more spread out and this will disperse the force of the slash to a greater extent, making the slash not as damaging to the player.

However, when a referee sees a player turn his stick so that the edge of the stick is going to contact the player, this looks much worse and may cause more pain since the small area that is receiving the blow will not be able to disperse the force.

Another reason for this looking bad is that a person is able to achieve a greater force behind the slash when he tries to hit a person with the edge or bottom of his stick as opposed to the flat part of his stick.  When you hit a player with the side of the stick or the flat part of the blade, your hands are turned over and you cannot generate as much force because you cannot flick the stick at the end of the slash.

You can actually demonstrate this for yourself. Take a hockey stick in a shooting position (hands spread apart) and slash an object (please use an object and not another person), first with the flat side of the stick and then with the edge or bottom of the stick.  See which method will result in the most force against a person’s body. Hitting someone with the edge or bottom of a stick can cause much more damage and therefore hitting someone with the edge of the stick in a chopping motion is penalized more often because it can cause greater damage to the player being slashed.

While it is true that players should use neither method and both qualify under the strict interpretation of the rules as slashing infractions, the nature of hockey today would not permit zero-tolerance with respect to slashing. There is just too much of it going on. Players would be in the penalty box all game long and it would simply create an emotionally charged climate in which few referees could cope well. Nevertheless, a player who turns his blade on its side before a slash and then chops an opponent with the edge of the stick is just asking for it and usually will get the call. A referee will allow most slashing with the flat part of the blade, but few will put up with a “wood-chopper”.

THE FORCE OF THE SLASH

The force of the slash is always given serious consideration by a referee when deciding if he should assess a penalty to a player.  Furthermore, it is the force and power of the stick when it hits the player that is looked at more than the speed of the stick on the actual approach to the body.

Often when players set up to slash an opponent they will use a flicking motion that will in fact apply a very small amount of force to the player being slashed.  This type of slash is hardly ever penalized because the intent of the player doing the slashing is more to annoy the other player than to impede his progress.

Then, of course, you have the slash where a player will swing his stick from one side of his body to the other side.  The stick may travel a meter or further in the air before it contacts the opposing player. These are the slashes that have a larger degree of force because as the stick travels a greater distance, it is able to pick up speed and therefore the force is rather intense when contact is made.  It is this type of slash that is most often penalized because the greater the force of the stick contacting an opposing player, the more that player’s progress is impeded, and the greater the risk of injury to the player being slashed. When a player is slashed with this kind of force he will often look immediately to the referee to see if a penalty is being called. If not, the player will usually strike back in an “eye-for-an-eye” fashion. More often than not this simply encourages the original slasher to strike again and the referee ends up sending both players to the box.

THE PART OF THE BODY BEING SLASHED

Besides the part of the stick making actual contact and the force of the blow, the location on the body is also a major consideration in whether or not to call a slashing penalty.

As you all know, players are covered from head to toe with equipment that can practically stop a speeding bullet.  Nevertheless, there are also parts on the player’s body that are not as well protected.  These areas include: behind the lower legs; the ankles and top of the feet; between the top of the shin pad and the pants; the lower back and stomach; the wrists; and the neck area.  These areas of the body are the most vulnerable to injuries            because of the limited protection. Equipment manufacturers have to leave space for mobility, so there has to be some areas of the body left almost defenseless.

When a player slashes an opponent on the shin pads or the pants, a loud sound may be produced so that the entire arena hears the smack, but the actual slash may not have been that bad.  If a player is skating into a slash, then the slash will look worse than if the player was standing still.  Too often coaches, players, and fans get upset because a loud sound was produced by a soft slash.  The slashes on the equipment may look bad and sound loud but these slashes will rarely be called unless a player took a baseball swing at his opponent.

Why should a referee penalize a player for a light slash that made a loud sound?  Shouldn’t the Referee call the slashes to the wrists and back of the legs where even a hard slash will barely make a sound?  The answer is obvious, and most referees are prone to give zero tolerance to players who aim at the more vulnerable areas of the body.

When one player tries to slash another player in one of the vulnerable areas, this slash will more often than not be called immediately, while the loud sounding slash against the shin pads will most often be allowed to go without penalty.  If the slash on the shin pads did not impede the player’s progress, then why should a penalty be called?  The next time you are at a hockey game, look to see if a Referee assesses a penalty for a light slash on the shin pads. The chances are that the Referee will assess the light slash in the back of the leg before he calls the slash on the shin pad, precisely because it will hurt the victim much more than the slash on the pad.

POSITION OF HANDS ON THE STICK

This factor has deals with the natural laws of physics with respect to the force that can be generated from leverage.

Which of these situations do you think will have more force? A player who slashes an opponent with his hands spread apart or with his hands close together at the butt-end of the stick. The answer is the player with his hands close together at the butt-end of his stick.

Just think of how many home runs Babe Ruth would have hit if he had one hand at the bottom of the bat and his other hand a foot away up the bat.  Lets just say that we would not know who Babe Ruth was if he hit like that.  The same science applies to hockey, not for shooting, but for slashing.

If a player has his hands spread a couple of feet apart, he cannot possibly generate as much leverage when he swings the stick as when his hands are together.  If he can’t generate maximum leverage, then the force and speed of the stick won’t be as great, and the slash will not hurt the opposing player or impede his progress as much as a more powerful slash.

When a referee sees a player move his lower hand (the hand closest to the blade of the stick) up the shaft of the stick close to his other hand that is located near the butt-end of the stick, immediately the referee knows that the intention of the player is not to annoy the opposing player but to intentionally slash the player with a greater amount of force. 

It is this type of slash that results in a player being assessed Major and Game Misconduct, or Match penalties. When a player moves his hands together to slash an opponent, he will generate much more force and therefore he is knowingly putting the other player at a greater risk of an injury.  When a player takes a ‘baseball swing’ at an opposing player, the referee usually does not think twice about assessing, at the very minimum a minor penalty. More often than not the referee will begin thinking seriously about a major.

WHERE THE SLASH OCCURS ON THE ICE

Referees will be more willing to assess a penalty for slashing if a slash impedes a player who has a reasonable scoring chance, as opposed to a player who is in the neutral zone with two or three more players to beat. Any time an infraction creates an advantage over the other team, a penalty is more likely to be called.

For instance, consider a situation whereby Kariya has just entered his attacking zone and is going wide on the defenseman, Brewer.  Kariya gets around Brewer and is now cutting into the front of the net with no one else but the goalie to beat.  Brewer realizes this and slashes Kariya across the shin pads causing Kariya to fall to the ice and slide right past the net without even getting a shot off.  Brewer would be assessed a Minor penalty for this because he denied a good scoring opportunity for Kariya.  When a player is denied a scoring opportunity such as this one, the referee will usually award the team victimized by the slash, a power play or if it is a breakaway, a Penalty Shot.

Also, in this situation, since Brewer sort of slashed and tripped Kariya at the same time, the Referee is more likely to assess Brewer with a slashing penalty as opposed to a tripping penalty.  The reason for this is that in minor hockey, when a player receives three stick penalties, he is usually ejected from the game. For example, if a player received a high sticking penalty and a slashing penalty on the same stoppage of play, it would count as two of the three penalties. Therefore, by calling a slashing penalty instead of tripping, the referee is causing the player to think twice about using his stick illegally during the rest of the game. This is another game management technique utilized by experienced officials

A common misconception of fans is that a player needs three separate trips to the penalty box in order to be ejected for stick infractions.  In most jurisdictions, this is not true. If a player was to receive a Minor for crosschecking, a Minor for slashing, and a Minor for high sticking on the same play, he would be ejected from the game because he has received three separate stick penalties, even though it was only one trip to the penalty box.

SUMMARY

Referees look at all of the above factors, as well as the time left in the game and the score, when deciding whether or not to assess a penalty for slashing.  What you must keep in mind is that the Referee only has a split second to consider all of the above points prior to making a decision as to whether or not he will assess a penalty.  Perhaps the most important problem the referee has to consider is the view he had of the situation. He may not even have seen the slash or the contact with the body. Everybody else in the arena may have seen it, but if his view was obstructed, he cannot call the penalty. He must see it to call it.  This is something to be aware of when you feel like criticizing an official for missing a call. From your vantage point, it may have been in perfect view. From where the referee was standing on the ice, it may have been completely different.

We will mention this ‘reality’ many times in this book. A referee is only human, and yet we expect superhuman performance. It would take a well-tuned computer to assess all of the possibilities and options that occur on a single slashing infraction. The position of the stick; the location on the body; the force; the intent; the position of the player on the ice; the time of the game; the score; the resulting scoring chance lost or gained; the reputation of the player; the three-strikes-you’re out rule; the situation of the game; game management; whether he actually saw the infraction – you get the picture. A senior referee will make this judgment call instantaneously. A less experienced referee may still be thinking about the call while the puck is heading down the ice and the fans are yelling. It’s not easy.