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Wicked Angles: Video review a necessary, yet underutilized change for the PHF

It’s not clear whether or not the refs have been given enough guidance on the new video review system — yet another hallmark of miscommunication in the PHF.

Buffalo Beauts goaltender Carly Jackson makes a save in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 24, 2021.
Michelle Jay

“The net was off!”

That was the resounding call from the fans behind Carly Jackson’s net as the Buffalo Beauts goaltender pleaded her case to on-ice officials. Jackson had just surrendered her second goal against off the stick of Connecticut’s Kennedy Marchment, who had capitalized off of a brutal turnover and a nice cross-ice pass from Alyssa Wohlfeiler to break the 1-1 tie with just 6:33 to go in the third period on Dec. 18 at Northtown Center.

Until that point, Jackson had been brilliant in net and the Beauts had played a tight game against the Whale despite not having touched the ice competitively in over a month. They’d overcome an early lead and had the Whale on the brink of overtime when that goal was scored — a goal that, arguably, may not have been valid, had the refs decided to go to video review.

But they declined. And in a system where the officials or the goal judge ultimately make the decision on whether or not to review the play, that means the Beauts now had just six and a half minutes against a strong Connecticut defense to try and steal a point. Even under normal circumstances, let alone frustrating ones like this, it would be tough. But with the wind out of Buffalo’s sails, it proved to be a game changer, literally, and the Whale skated away with a 3-1 victory.

Jackson remained professional but was understandably frustrated with what she saw as a prime opportunity to utilize the recently restructured video review system the PHF had announced just nine days prior, on Dec. 9.

“Obviously, that’s really frustrating to lose a game based off something that could be reviewed and I think that it should have been reviewed,” she said. “However, you know, they have a job to do and they did their best, and I’m just out there trying to do my job as well. I hope in the future that that is a play that can be reviewed, as it should be, but... that’s just the way the dice rolled today.”

However you want to view the quality of PHF officiating so far this season (and personally, I don’t have the highest opinion of it), it does objectively stand that quite a lot of the decision making by the refs has been left up to chance rather than, you know, the rules of the game. It’s made for an unpleasant viewing experience so far, as you see the frustrations mount on one side or the other and hear the complaints of some of the league’s biggest names. Obviously, a penalty is a penalty, but when Madison Packer pipes up during post-game about the consistency of the calls going both ways on the ice, I think it’s worth paying attention to.

Which brings me to the video review system. The new rules announced on the 9th indicated that only seven scenarios will be subject to video review:

I. Puck crossing the plane of the goal line; II. Puck in the goal net prior to the goal frame being displaced; III. Puck entering the goal net at the expiration of a period; IV. Puck directed into the goal net by any part of an attacking skater’s body; V. Puck deflected into the goal net off an on-ice official; VI. Puck struck with a high stick above the height of the crossbar by an attacking skater prior to entering the goal net; VII. Puck entering the goal net after an attacking skater has interfered with the goaltender.

In theory, it should help the refs make the right calls and help the game progress smoothly and fairly. In practice, however, it doesn’t seem like it’s made much difference at all. Not only has Buffalo not benefitted from it when they perhaps should have, but Minnesota — a team that has scored 1.4 goals per game — has also had no-goal calls stand when they could have been reviewed.

The Beauts-Whale scenario from a couple of weeks ago clearly falls into item II on that list, and yet when it was brought up by the goaltender whose net was displaced, the refs did nothing about it, even as you could see Jackson moving the pipe back into place right after Marchment’s goal. Even as the nets coming off their moorings have been an ongoing issue in every PHF rink, not just Northtown. Even as this is meant to be a “great equalizer” in terms of getting the right call at the right time, and yet it’s still so selectively utilized as to be rendered moot.

I’m not going to deny my homerism, but even if the Beauts had been the ones to score in that scenario, I would have called for a review — because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t put a system in place and then completely ignore the parameters it’s meant to work within. And maybe (this is for the league itself) be sure those parameters are communicated clearly to every on-ice official and goal judge in the league so that we don’t need a coach’s challenge or a frustrated goaltender or goal scorer in a post-game media scrum to make a difference.

It’s just another example of how there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to clear communication and making the right judgment calls, both on and off the ice. When used (and used properly), I think video review can truly help the on-ice product for the PHF as it has for pretty much every other pro league that uses it. Right now, though, it’s being eschewed for no reason, and teams are suffering because of it.