Slash the Review?

Paul Balm discusses Andrew Hotham’s DOPS ban, the fallout and perhaps a fairer system of missing games.

There are times when I really wish I wrote about a sport that announced things at a reasonable hour. Look at cricket, the announcement that Alistair Cook was stepping down as England captain was released first thing in the morning. If I was writing about that I’d have had all day to gather my thoughts and write this instead it’s gone ten o’clock and I was going to give my regular Game of Thrones fix (I’ve only just finished season 3, I know, I know) a miss and get an early night for once. No such luck. Cardiff have announced that Andrew Hotham has been banned for two games for his slash on Jeff Dimmen during overtime in Saturday’s game. And, given how popular my last hastily written, almost stream consciousness style article was I decided I’d better get my thoughts on paper (screen?) while they were still fresh. I’d only have ended up lying in bed trying to piece together my thoughts and who needs sleep anyway?

I’ve got no problem with that ban, none at all. If you watch the footage doing the rounds on the internet then it’s clear, to me, that Hotham has no interest whatsoever in getting the puck. The puck is on the ice at the end of Dimmen’s stick blade & Hotham swings at somewhere a lot closer to it’s butt end. I’ve seen people claiming he was trying to hook his stick. They might be right but nothing I saw on the video suggests to me that they’re right. I would say that though wouldn’t I, I am after all a Panthers fan. You don’t need me to tell you where the claims of innocence are mainly coming from.

I’ve got no problem with the length of the ban. Given some of the decisions that DOPS have (or rather haven’t) handed out this season two games is probably about two more than I thought Hotham would get. In fact, and I know that it doesn’t really work like this (at least I don’t think it does, who knows how DOPS really works), I expected Dimmen to get punished for throwing his glove in the ice in frustration. I won’t go on about that though in case I give them any ideas.

So, if I’m so happy why am I sat writing this? Well, there are a couple of things about the whole situation that leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. They’re sort of intertwined but essentially it boils down to two things, the inaction of the referee on the night and the whole review system.

You have to wonder why, if the slash was worth a two game ban three days after the game, it wasn’t even worthy of a two minute penalty on the night? I know that the referee can’t call what he doesn’t see, he’s only human after all like the rest of us but I was under the impression that linesmen can alert him to incidents that could involve a 5 minute plus penalty (again I could be very wrong here). I’ve just re-watched the highlights and if you watch the incident and what happens straight after as Dimmen loses the puck to a Cardiff player who shoots you can clearly see that Liam Sewell, the referee, is in a position where the slash would, admittedly on the other side of Dimmen, almost certainly have been in his field of vision. The same can be said for one of his linesmen who skates in from a different angle. I know none of that guarantees anything at all but you have to think that one of them must have seen it.

Maybe Sewell saw it, maybe he didn’t. Only one person knows for sure and whether he did or not must have influenced what happened next as when Dimmen complained to him, showing the clearly broken finger/s to him he merely waved him away with as much interest as a cow flicking it’s tail at an irritating fly. I know Dimmen’s remonstrations on their own wouldn’t have made any difference but surely Sewell could see the evidence before him and consulted his linesmen. I don’t recollect him doing that.

After all that the Panthers were always going to submit the video weren’t they? The thing is that it never should have needed to be submitted to be reviewed in the first place. There should have been a call at the time. Given Panthers’ total inability to get anything out of 3 on 3 over time I doubt it did, but it could have changed the outcome of the game. Hotham did, after all, get an assist on the game winning goal but like I said I doubt it made a difference. Hotham will now miss games against Belfast and Coventry so Panthers don’t really “benefit” from submitting the incident for review. Ironically, if the Challenge Cup semi-final wasn’t this week then Hotham’s second game would have been against the Panthers but how often does it happen like that?

There needs to be a shift in the emphasis on how this league deals with indiscipline like this. The league should be investing in training for the officials so that they can make the correct calls in more cases on the night. It’s all well and good saying ‘oh but he got the ban in the end’ but the whole point of having a referee there at the time is to hand out the immediate punishments when the offence is committed. Saturday’s incident is yet another example of why the league should be investing in a four official system. There’s a long way to go with that statement. Right now we don’t really have enough officials that are good enough to step up but you should pair new and experienced officials together. How else are they going to learn?

I don’t just want to moan though. I know some reading this will be wondering if I’d be saying any of this if Dimmen had done this to Hotham and you know what? I’m wondering that too. Maybe they’re right. I’d like to think I’m fair and that I’d say something similar if the tables were turned but who knows, we all watch the game through team tinted glasses to some extent. To redress the balance I’d like to put forward an idea for how any bans that come out of reviews could be a little bit fairer.

Put simply if a player is banned for a game then the game he misses will be the next time his team plays the team they were playing when he got banned. So, in this example Hotham wouldn’t miss games against Belfast and Coventry he’d miss the games on the 12th and 21st of February against the Nottingham Panthers. Now, this isn’t always possible. There will be times, especially towards the end of the season, when two teams have played all their games against each other and in this case the current rules should apply but the rest of the time it just seems fairer to me to do it the way I’ve suggested. If the ban is longer than the number of games left for the teams to play then you’d use a hybrid system, i.e. if a player got three games and there was only one game against the other team left he’d miss the next two games on the schedule and then the game against the other team regardless of when it was. Does that make sense? It isn’t perfect, it makes no reference to the playoffs for instance but maybe it’s something to think about. Not for me right now though, I’m off to bed, I might even be able to sleep now!

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