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2019 Worlds: The Call

What just happened in Espoo?

Ottawa Senators v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With 8:27 left in overtime in the gold medal game of the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship, Finland’s Petra Nieminen buried a loose puck into Team USA’s open net. Finland thinks they have won their first gold medal, in their first appearance in the gold medal game, in front of their loud, passionate fans in Espoo.

They celebrate accordingly. Gloves go flying. Helmets are torn off. Teammates embrace.

It was a fairy tale ending for Finland. Their performance at the Worlds, which before today’s game was highlighted by a 4-2 upset over Team Canada in yesterday’s semifinals, was simply sensational. But Nieminen’s goal did not stand.

After a lengthy video review, the referee signaled to a stunned crowd of 6,053 that the goal was disallowed. Overtime resumed and Team USA went on to win gold in a shootout.

After the game, Finland filed an official protest, which now appears is not allowed. The host nation of the 2019 Worlds and the world of women’s hockey is filled with questions.

Let’s take a closer look at this unforgettable and controversial call.


First, let’s start by digging into the IIHF rule book, which you can find here.

Rule 97, Section IX:

ix. No goal will be allowed if the referee has blown his whistle to stop play before the puck crosses the plane of the goal line. Such a play is not subject to review by the video-goal judge.

Rule 150, Sections I, V, and VI:

i. A skater who, by means of his stick or his body, interferes with or impedes the mobility of a goaltender who is in his goal crease, or who prevents the goaltender from playing his position, will be assessed a minor penalty.

v. An attacking skater may skate through the goal crease during game action so long as he doesn’t make contact with the goaltender. If he makes contact, or if the goaltender makes contact while backing up in his goal crease, the attacking skater will be assessed a minor penalty

vi. Incidental contact with the goaltender is permitted so long as it doesn’t violate situations set out in Rule 150-i-v.

Rule 185, Section III:

iii. An attacking skater who makes incidental contact with a goaltender out of his goal crease while both try to gain possession of the puck will not be penalized. If a goal is scored at this time, the goal will count.

Rule 186, Sections I and V:

i. If an attacking skater makes contact with a goaltender in the goal crease during game action, he will be assessed a minor penalty for interference. If a goal is scored at this time, it will not count.

v. An attacking skater who makes contact other than incidental with a goaltender who is out of his goal crease during game action will be assessed a minor penalty for interference. If a goal is scored at this time, it will not count.

There’s a lot to break down from the rules cited above, but before we go any further let’s start with the facts.

The first of which is that USA goaltender Alex Rigsby was the only player assessed a penalty on the play. In other words, there was no penalty called on Finnish defender Jenni Hiirikoski, who made contact with Rigsby before Nieminen scored her goal.

There was no call on Jenni Hiirikoski for goaltender interference.
Taken from the IIHF’s box score of the gold medal game.

The fact that Hiirikoski wasn’t assessed a minor for goaltender interference is what has so many people confused. It’s clear that Hiirikoski made contact with Rigsby, but even if Rigsby initiated that contact, she’s protected because of her position and because she was partially in her goal crease. However, there was no penalty called for goaltender interference here.

If the only penalty on the play in question was given to Rigsby, why did the goal not stand? The IIHF’s official recap of the game states that the goal was disallowed because of goaltender interference.

When the officials waved the goal off for goalie interference, the fans howled in derision. The Finns did get a power play, as Rigsby was also called for tripping on the play, but they couldn’t capitalize, and also couldn’t score when Megan Keller was called for slashing at the end of overtime.

Our second irrefutable fact is that there was contact between Hiirikoski and Rigsby and that the goal was disallowed because of that contact.

It’s worth noting that Kendall Coyne Schofield appeared to be talking to the officials about why there was no call on Hiirikoski, if the video-judge and review had ruled that the goal should be overturned. It’s also worth noting that the referee in the corner did not raise her hand until Hiirikoski went down, which suggests that there was no other delayed penalty. Even if there had been, Rigsby didn’t have control of the puck before Nieminen scored.

Next, let’s try to establish where contact first occurred. Was it inside the crease or not? Was it incidental? Here are some screenshots.

Did Hiirikoski first make contact with Rigsby’s arm or her left pad?
Taken from the NHL Network’s broadcast of the game.

Below is another angle of that contact, a split second before Hiirikoski and Rigsby make contact. Take note of how Rigsby is hunting for the puck with her glove after she bobbled Hiirikoski’s shot.

Taken from the NHL Network’s broadcast of the game.

Really, it’s just too close to call definitively from these two angles alone.

Because still images can be misleading — whether or not they are intended to be — here is a .gif of the better angle of the two so you can judge for yourself. But there’s no doubt that there’s contact between Hiirikoski and Rigsby.

The same official who raised her arm to signal the penalty on Rigsby also pointed to the goal to signal that Finland had scored. Which means that the call on the ice was for a good goal.

Here is a screen shot of the referee signaling the goal as Nieminen begins her celebration.

The call on the ice was a goal.
From the IIHF.com’s highlight video of the gold medal game.

There are only seven reasons that a call can go under video review. Let’s turn back to the IIHF’s rule book to see what they are.

Rule 99, Sections I, II, III, IV, and VII.

i. The video-goal judge may consult with the referee only at the request of the referee or by request of the video-goal judge himself. He is consulted primarily to determine the legitimacy of a goal.

ii. If a goal is scored or appears to have been scored, the referee will make his call immediately (goal, or no goal) and then, if necessary, consult the video-goal judge. It will be up to the video-goal judge to confirm the referee’s call or, if there is proper evidence, refute it.

iii. In the case where video review is inconclusive, the referee’s original call will stand.

iv. If the video-goal judge requests consultation with the referee on a potential goal that no on-ice official acknowledged, the opinion of the video-goal judge will be the decisive one.

vii. The following are the only situations subject to review by the video-goal judge (see Rule 45-iii for other uses):

1. Puck crossing the plane of the goal line;

2. Puck in the goal net prior to the goal frame being displaced;

3. Puck entering the goal net at the expiration of a period;

4. Puck directed into the goal net by any part of an attacking skater’s body;

5. Puck deflected into the goal net off an on-ice official;

6. Puck struck with a stick above the height of the crossbar by an attacking skater prior to entering the goal net;

7. Puck entering the goal net after an attacking skater has interfered with the goaltender;

The language here is pretty clear. If the video review is deemed inconclusive, the call on the ice will stand — which was for a good goal and a penalty on Rigsby. However, if the video-judge initiates the review, their decision is the decisive one. It appears that the latter is what transpired in Espoo, but the sequence of those events is really only known to the officials.

Lacey Senuk and Nicole Hertrich were the referees and Veronica Lovensno and Justine Todd were the linesmen. The IIHF’s box score does not list who the video-judge for the game was.

The bottom line here is that Hiirikoski’s contact with Rigsby was unavoidable, but, according to the rules, that does not matter. Contact between an attacking skater and a goaltender is considered goaltender interference, but it also calls for a minor penalty. However, there was no call on Hiirikoski on this play. Which implies that what the referee saw on the ice was Rigsby initiating contact. But what did the video-judge see and determine?

Let’s re-visit Rule 186, Sections I and V:

i. If an attacking skater makes contact with a goaltender in the goal crease during game action, he will be assessed a minor penalty for interference. If a goal is scored at this time, it will not count.

v. An attacking skater who makes contact other than incidental with a goaltender who is out of his goal crease during game action will be assessed a minor penalty for interference. If a goal is scored at this time, it will not count.

Rigsby was, barely, still in her crease when contact occurred, but the fact that there was no call on Hiirikoski suggests that the referee on the ice likely considered her contact incidental. This is further supported by the fact that Rigsby was assessed a tripping penalty.

If there was enough evidence to overturn the call that was made on the ice, then why was Rigsby the only player who was penalized? We may never know, but just like you, we’re anxiously awaiting clarification from the IIHF.

UPDATE:

There is at least one potential explanation of the goal being disallowed and the penalty still being assessed to Rigsby. According to IIHF rules a referee must witness a penalty first-hand. In other words, penalties cannot be assessed after a video review, but goals can be turned over by video review.

Rule 100, Section I and II:

i. Penalties can be called at any time during the playing of a game. This constitutes the 60 minutes of regulation play, the overtime, penalty-shot shootout, stoppages in play, and the departure of the teams from the ice to the dressing rooms.

ii. An on-ice official must witness first-hand any infraction if a penalty is to be assessed and incorporated into the official game sheet. This includes events before, during, and after the playing of the game.