Monday, January 14, 2008


We live in an era where the term "disrespect" is thrown about like candy at a Fourth of July parade.

Teams that win championships talk about being "disrespected" along the way, as if it matters if some talking head decides that their opponent is more likely to win the game.

Eli Manning did this Sunday. His team has won a playoff game on the road, upsetting the conference's top seed - and a team that had already beaten Manning's New York Giants twice. His first reaction?

"Well, no one gave us a shot."

Who cares? Just play the game, a'ight?

Well, we saw another form of disrespect over the weekend, though many of you didn't recognize it. After all, it came out of the world of college hockey. College hockey is great. It's a wonderful game played by bright, talented athletes and followed by incredibly passionate and loyal fans. Among the six leagues that make up Division I, there is probably none better than the WCHA for top-to-bottom competition.

A good example of this happened on Friday, when Wisconsin, stuck much closer to the bottom than the top of the league standings, was in Denver. The Pioneers of the University of Denver are one of the top teams in the country, and they are running second in the WCHA behind rival Colorado College. For a time, it looked like DU would run the Badgers off the rink, leading 3-0 late in the second period. Wisconsin battled back with two straight goals, and then they pulled goaltender Shane Connelly in the final minute for an extra attacker.

Two icings by Denver led to clock issues, as officials had to review to see where the clock should have stopped so the time could be corrected. They settled on a few seconds left in the game after one of those icings. With a faceoff to the left of Denver goalie Peter Mannino, Wisconsin still had a shot. They won the faceoff, and Wisconsin forward Matt Ford ripped a shot past Mannino to presumably tie the game. Referee Randy Schmidt and one of his assistants both signaled for a good goal, the red light was on above the goal judge, indicating a good goal, and six Wisconsin players had their sticks raised to signal that they thought there was a goal. All of this happened before the green light behind the goal came on. That green light is triggered by a stoppage in the clock.

A screenshot from FSN Rocky Mountain showed .3 seconds left while the officials were signaling for a good goal. TV clocks are usually fishy, but word out of Denver is that the TV clock there is tied to the "official clock". With technology as it is, I'm guessing most newer buildings (and maybe some older ones) are capable of a similar setup.

So can we agree that this looks like a good goal?


So how does this happen, then?
"Faceoff on the right side between Wisconsin's Kyle Turris and Denver's Tyler Bozak, old foes from the BCHL. The puck stays in their skates until Matthew Ford digs it out and fires a wrist shot between Peter Mannino's pads. The Badgers go crazy. The Pioneers point to the clock, which shows 0.0. The red light is on.

If things are set up correctly, the red light is not supposed to be able to go on if the green light is already on for the end of a period. There's no indication whether the goal lights are working properly.
Schmidt heads into the scorer's booth via the penalty box to look at the video replay. If it was done properly, he should have been able to see an overhead view of the goal with a view of the clock on the picture. He returns to the ice and waves the goal off.

So here's where it gets interesting. People start text messaging UW coaches and staff members, saying that the puck was in the goal before time ran out on the FSN Rocky Mountain broadcast. Here's the thing: The scoreboard clock (the true time) and what's shown on the TV broadcast are almost never in sync. It appears in retrospect, however, that the Magness clock and the TV clock are pretty close, if not right in sync, so the mystery continues. The scoreboard clock should be what Schmidt saw in the scorer's booth."
Schmidt was already under the microscope once this season, as he messed up a call in the Denver-St. Cloud State series before Christmas. That mistake required the league issue a statement after the fact to acknowledge the error. In talking to a few people over the weekend who have covered the league longer than my six or so years, there is no recollection of such a statement ever being issued by the WCHA.

Now it's happened twice.
"The Western Collegiate Hockey Association has acknowledged that an error occurred on a goal that was disallowed in Friday (Jan. 11) night's conference game between host University of Denver and visiting University of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin goal in question occurred as time expired, but according to the video replay system available to the referee, the puck was still in the crease when the clock in the available replay showed 0:00. But the game tape showed that the puck was in the net and back out of the net prior to 0:00.

The league regrets the error, and acknowledges that the goal should have counted."
So, how does something like this happen?

We have a video replay system in the WCHA that's been used hundreds of times, cost the league many dollars, and has been worked on tirelessly by, among others, the league's supervisor of officials, Greg Shepherd. Arena clocks are rigged to keep goal lights from coming on once time is truly expired. Clocks are also rigged so TV outlets can get a feed of the "official game clock" for use on their telecasts.

How did Randy Schmidt mess this up? My colleague Todd Milewski, who does a wonderful job covering Badger hockey for The Capital Times, has your answer:
"Further review of what happened to the Badgers on Friday showed Schmidt's mistake this time was inexcusable.

The overhead camera trained on the goal that the WCHA uses in its review procedure showed Matthew Ford's shot crossed the goal line with around one second left on the clock, then rattled around the back of the net and came out.

The video shows Schmidt signaling for a goal with time still on the clock. Time ran out before the scoreboard operator stopped the clock, and Schmidt went to the replay.

No one who saw that footage on Saturday was denying that the goal should have counted, but it's unclear how much of the replay Schmidt saw in deciding to wave off the goal. One source said the referee looked at only a still picture of the crease area when the clock reached zero. That would have showed the puck back out of the goal, but it also should have showed Schmidt himself pointing at the goal.

UW coach Mike Eaves indicated after Saturday's game that Schmidt had trouble communicating with the video replay operator, who provides the footage that the referee sees."
Hilarious, in a sad way. He (Schmidt) looked only at the frame from the video once the clocked reached 0.0 seconds, and apparently failed to figure out that the puck had to have gone in the net before that moment, since the red light went on.

Possibly more egregious by the WCHA? Schmidt was allowed to work Saturday's game, as if nothing had ever happened. Denver coach George Gwozdecky joined Wisconsin's Mike Eaves in making it clear that this shouldn't have been allowed to occur. But the league ignored the wishes of two highly-respected and successful coaches, instead sticking to their guns and leaving Schmidt on duty.

But don't worry. Schmidt had a makeup call in him Saturday.
"The Pioneers seemingly paid for the error Saturday, because Wisconsin's second goal stood up despite it being obvious Podge Turnbull's tap-in goal off a loose puck came after a whistle was blown for Mannino smothering the puck.

DU coach George Gwozdecky heard the whistle, but he said his team didn't deserve to win, anyway."
I didn't see the play in question on Saturday. I saw the end of Friday's game. Frankly, I'm embarrassed for the WCHA.

This is a fine league with great athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans. There are even a few (or more) good broadcasters and other media types running around. But the league itself, run by experienced, hard-working, level-headed people, did itself a great disservice in a few ways this weekend.

1. The call itself was so comically botched that we don't even know where to begin. Sure, the rules stipulate that a referee's decision is final, but there are too many checks and balances in place for this to have happened. I mean, didn't Schmidt think it was funny that he was signaling "goal" before he could hear the horn, which is tied to the game clock and does not go off manually upon time expiring? Wouldn't it be strange to see that the goal light was allowed to turn on? Was it the one time out of a hundred that the goal light went off without the puck crossing the goal line?

The report that Schmidt looked at only one frame of video is a colossal failure in procedure. If it's not, the procedure should immediately be altered, because it's just not right.

2. How is there no system in place for Wisconsin to appeal? Even the NBA, decried and ridiculed for years as the quality of play goes in the dumper, acknowledges the occasional mistake by officials. They also understand that mistakes can occasionally be so awful and game-altering that replays of games can be necessitated.

3. Why on Earth was Schmidt allowed to work Saturday's game? This isn't about trying to get Schmidt, by all accounts (including my only opportunity to meet him, which happened a couple years ago) a good man and a hard-working official, fired. It's not my call, and I'm not about to pass that kind of judgment on a guy whose work I might see three or four times a year.

(Especially when NFL officials, who make thousands of dollars per game compared to the few hundred WCHA officials make, are possibly more inefficient.)

Anyway, the larger point here is this: Schmidt was involved in a horribly botched call that directly affected the outcome of an important game. Both head coaches seemed to express the thought that he shouldn't work. Human nature dictates that you're going to feel bad about something like that, unless you're a heartless and arrogant moron. So Schmidt should have gotten the night off to clear his head. Either that, or simply switch him with Brett Klosowski, who was working the Anchorage-Colorado College series in Colorado Springs.

Something had to be done, and "standing still" was not the right move. Not for any of the individuals involved in Friday's incident, and not for the integrity and image of a wonderful league.

As for what should happen as we move forward, I have a couple ideas.

1. Shepherd should reiterate the protocol for reviews immediately. As far as I know, the replay system has worked pretty well in the WCHA, so there's no need to panic. But we need to keep working to make sure that the technology is properly being used to get calls right.

2. Schmidt needs to be kept clear of Wisconsin or Denver games for a little while. Doesn't sound like either coach was too pleased once we all figured out what happened on Friday. Yes, we're all professionals here, but does Randy Schmidt really need to be subjected to a weekend at the Kohl Center in front of that student section?

3. I'll say it again: Officials need to wear microphones. Fans, media, players, and coaches all deserve a thorough explanation of controversial rulings. I don't need to hear every penalty call and all that, but I think everyone's understanding of the game would be improved if the officials could tell us what was going on and why they made the decision they made on that really close play.

Rant over. Let's play hockey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article. As a veteran hockey official I feel sick to my stomach when an error like this is made and a league noted as a leader, like the WCHA is, can't take the steps necessary to right a wrong. As a WCHA insider, I believe that it is time for Mr. Shepherd to step down as supervisor and allow someone to come in and revamp the entire officiating staff now currently being used in the league. There are too many Premadonas working games that have somewhere along the line at Shepherd's fostering picked up the idea that the thousands in attendance at WCHA games are there to see them.