Sunday, November 30, 2014

Linesmen Break up Fight between Neil and Thornton, to Chagrin of Both

Ottawa's Chris Neil recorded a Gordie Howe Hat Trick on Friday in Florida, but before he and Shawn Thornton (and fight-loving fans) could get their money's worth out of the deal, the conflict was broken up by linesmen who reacted deftly when Thornton's helmet came off.

Though Panther's broadcaster and Hall of Famer Denis Potvin likened it to "turning out the lights on Gladiator," the NHL has given linesmen the latitude to step in and put the kibosh on fights when helmets become removed, whenever possible and safe to do so.

Here's some official jargon, per Darren Dreger's report from 2013:

"NHL linesmen have been instructed to stop a fight when the participants opt to remove their helmets prior to swapping blows.

This isn’t a rule change, simply a common sense approach to encourage players to protect their head at all times.

There is nothing formal about this strategy. It was implemented shortly after the preseason where it became evident players weren’t concerned about the additional two-minute penalty for removing their helmets to fight…even though the rule was introduced entirely for player safety.

Linesmen now have the authority to step in, when it is safe to do so, and stop a fight when the combatants purposely take off their helmets."

Neil, who along with Thornton seemed eager to continue the tussle, should have known. No helmet = maybe no fight.

Now, whether or not the whole fight was staged just so Neil could get the Howe Hat Trick, that's another question entirely.