Ryane Clowe Plays Puck From Bench: Cheating or Gamesmanship?

Ryane Clowe Sharks

Did Clowe make a smart play or challenge the integrity of the game? (Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE)

In the Battle for the Pacific Division, there can only be one victor.

The San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes, and Los Angeles Kings have been engaging in playoff-caliber hockey for over a month.  The teams have rarely been separated by more than a point or two in the standings during that time, making every single game crucial.

Dallas’ loss to Nashville on Thursday night officially knocked them out of playoff contention, leaving the remaining three teams to fight for seeding.  The Pacific winner will catapult up to the 3-seed in the West and gain home-ice advantage while the others will be left to face powerhouses in Vancouver and St. Louis during the first round.  There’s a lot on the line.

San Jose and Los Angeles took matters into their own hands Thursday night when the teams faced off in the first of back-to-back games to finish the regular season.  THW’s Walter McLaughlin summed up the action:

In a wild, rough-and-tumble affair that featured seven power play goals, three fights, a boarding major and three roughing penalties, the San Jose Sharkcame back from a 3-1 second period deficit to outlast the Los Angeles Kings, 6-5 in the shootout.

The Sharks’ Ryane Clowe was active in almost every aspect of McLaughlin’s summary. A goal, an assist, and two fights — a supersized ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick’.  But as the teams head north to San Jose for a Saturday evening finale, media attention over the next 48 hours will focus on the stickwork of Clowe late in the third period that broke up a Kings’ odd-man rush:

The sneaky move went unnoticed by the referees and kept the score tied before the Sharks eventually prevailed in a shootout.

After the game, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter wasn’t sure what to make of the play.  “What do you think my thoughts are?” Sutter told Helene Elliott of the LA Times.  “You can’t call too many men on the ice. What do you call it, too many sticks?”

According to Rule 56.2 for minor penalties:

A minor penalty shall be imposed on any identifiable player on the players’ bench or penalty bench who, by means of his stick or his body, interferes with the movements of the puck or any opponent on the ice during the progress of the play. In addition, should a player about to come onto the ice, play the puck while one or both skates are still on the players’ or penalty bench, a minor penalty for interference shall be assessed.

The call on the ice would’ve been officially a two-minute minor penalty for Interference.  This rule rarely comes into play, but it’s actually not the first time it’s been called this week.

Nick Schultz Inteference from Penalty BoxNick Schultz and the Edmonton Oilers thought the referees were playing an April Fools joke on them Monday night when Schultz was given a penalty for playing the puck before fully exiting the penalty box.  This situation happens once or twice a year, but it’s just a matter of timing and overanxious players.

Clowe’s tactic was blatant and intentional.  He didn’t hurt a star player with a vicious elbow, but he potentially had a substantial impact on the game and the teams involved.  If the Kings had scored on the odd-man rush and won the game, the Sharks would have been eliminated from division title contention.

The third seed in the Western Conference guarantees home-ice advantage in the first round.  With each additional home date comes millions of dollars in playoff revenue.  According to Rich Hammond (@lakingsinsider), Kings Governor Tim Leiweke wasn’t too thrilled.  “It’s a shame that a guy can cheat and get away with it in a game this important.”

It’s disappointing that four on-ice officials failed to see an infraction that occurred in plain sight.  But what about Clowe?  Was his move cheating or just another example of the gamesmanship that occurs on and off the ice every night yet goes unnoticed by most?

Sand from the beaches of Montreal somehow made it into the hallway outside the Philadelphia Flyers locker room a few years back.  The Detroit Red Wings were notorious for painting the visiting team’s locker room at Joe Louis Arena just hours before a playoff opponent arrived.  Holes in the rubber mats on the away bench at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena left skate-dulling screws and bolts exposed.

Earlier this season, the Kings were at the center of an outrageous controversy that’s since become known as ‘Clockgate’.  With the Kings on a powerplay in a 2-2 game against Columbus, the game clock mysteriously stopped and allowed Drew Doughty to poke home the winning goal with 0.09 seconds remaining.  (NHL Senior VP Colin Campbell said in this Wall Street Journal article last month that any question about whether the result of that game could undercut the integrity of the postseason is “crazy”.  Both teams are currently tied with 94 points.)

Even faceoffs are carefully corrupted by savvy players and coaches looking for an edge.

Veteran goalies unstrap their equipment just enough to delay a faceoff after an icing call to get their teammates some rest.  Coaches abandon common sense, act confused, and insist on a twenty-second referee explanation for the same reason.  There’s even growing trend of players getting intentionally thrown out of faceoffs to stall and get a breather.

A few weeks ago, the Dallas Stars iced the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at a crucial point late in the second period.

“You gotta think [Stars coach] Glen Gulutzan’s thinking about using a timeout here,” NBC’s Ed Olczyk exclaimed.  “[Defensemen Sheldon] Souray and [Stephane] Robidas have been out here for AT LEAST a minute and 40 seconds and are out of gas.  The shift length is usually anywhere between 30 and 40 seconds but in that second period you talk about the long change.  Your defensive zone is the farthest away from your bench.”

Sure enough, the Stars did use their timeout and Gulutzan pulled Jamie Benn aside to whisper a few directions.

When the two teams eventually congregated for the faceoff in the Stars’ defensive end, it was left winger Benn and not Steve Ott lined up to take the draw.  Benn takes a number of faceoffs for the Stars but his 46-percent success rate can’t compare to Ott, who ranks among the Top 15 in the NHL.

Benn had no intentions of taking the faceoff though.  Before the referee had a chance to drop the puck, Benn slashed the stick of Pittsburgh’s Joe Vitale resulting in a faceoff violation.  After being thrown out of the draw, Benn slowly wandered away from the faceoff dot and in came the ace Steve Ott to handle his normal duties.

Ten days later the Penguins found themselves in a similar position against the Florida Panthers.

With a tired unit stuck on the ice after an icing call, right winger James Neal — with all of 15 faceoffs and a gruesome 26-percent success rate on his resume this season — stepped in to take the critical defensive zone draw.

Neal refused to put his stick on the ice, slid his skate onto the faceoff dot to make his infraction obvious, and was thrown out.  In came center Evgeni Malkin after an extra fifteen second rest.

These minor incidents happen every single night in the NHL.  Many players even argue ‘if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying’.  Over the course of a playoff series, the tiny psychological and tactical advantages can be the difference between winning and losing.

Fans and writers around the country are shocked that Ryan Clowe made the “stupid” decision to stop the puck with his stick from the bench and risk a penalty.  But how stupid was it?  It prevented a scoring chance and allowed the Sharks to stay alive in the Pacific Division race.

Is it any different than tackling a player in front of the net to prevent a goal?  Or pumping paint fumes into a locker room?  Or sending a winger into the faceoff to get intentionally kicked out and delay the game?

Envision Sidney Crosby on a breakaway in overtime of Game 7.  If there’s no chance of fine or suspension and only the possibility of a two-minute minor penalty, why not send an extra player on the ice to stop him?

Where should the line be drawn?  Leave us your take in the comments.

___________________________________________

Email: MJColligan@TheHockeyWriters.com

Twitter: @MikeColligan

Mike Colligan

Mike Colligan

Managing Editor
Mike Colligan is an NHL analyst at Forbes SportsMoney and The Hockey Writers. Email: MJColligan@gmail.com
Mike Colligan
@AGretz nice balanced take, thought for sure NJ and Dallas were primed for improvement this year - 12 mins ago
Mike Colligan
Mike Colligan

23 Comments

  1. For Mike Colligan to write an article like this even suggesting such a notion makes him just as big of a disgrace as Clowe himself.  Gamesmanship? Downright laughable.  

  2. I don’t know who could think this is “gamesmanship”. It’s cheating. Period.

    All players walk the “legal/illegal” line when it comes to their sport of choice. But to be so obvious about it is what makes this incredibly stupid on Clowe’s part.

    Frankly, I don’t take him seriously as a hockey player anymore. If you have to play the puck from the bench to win the game, you don’t deserve the W to begin with.

  3. Clowe’s play was dumb and he already admitted it. But when you say the “he potentially had a substantial impact on the game and the teams” involved, there is an implication that Clowe’s act is somehow different than taking down the same player from behind if Clowe had been on the ice and the call had been missed. It happens in hockey when penalties are intentionally committed on breakaways; it happens with defensive backs in football when them commit pass interfernce to stop touchdown passes ; and it happens all the time in basketball. Players intentionally commit acts that are against the rules to top scoring plays, stop the clock, or to somehow alter time impact of the play or game. I’d argue that Clowe’s act was not even premeditated, as those other acts most certainly are. Sure, what Clowe did was more was unusual and certainly more stupid. But it’s not Clowe’s fault that it was missed nor that the rules only call for a 2:00 penalty to start with.

    • the fact that he didnt get caught by the referees doesnt make it ok for him to knock the puck away from the kings player moron. watch the video again you can CLEAR as day see him stand up 3 seconds before the kings rush lean 6 feet out on the ice then CLEAR as day see him try to blend back in the bench as if NOTHING had happened. I will say that i was there that night and i would have to say, most of the sharks fan who witnessed it live where infact just as much discusted at clowe as all the kings fans. the problem isnt that its only a 2 minute minor. the problem is that clowe cheated, got away with it, then denied it at first. this is the first time in my opinion that the kings had a real shot at finishing higher than the sharks in the standings….. and clowes play kept the sharks alive in the season…. anybody sharks fans or not who says clowe did nothing wrong…..your judgment is embarassing and what i thought was a good old nhl rivalry to me is gone…..when a team has to ALTER  actual in game play to win. If san jose fans had any respect for the nhl or if the SJ sharks team had respect for the nhl, they would have fined clowe or AT LEAST be held accountable for what he did. but instead clowe says, “i dont know what you’re talking about”,,,,, clowe is a piece os shit who deserves to die slow… people like clowe RUIN all the good qualities the nhl has tried to maintain over the years….NHL officiating is downright EMBARRSASSING

  4. I agree.  He probably enjoys punching babies in his free time.  He deserves a swift kick to the balls.  The Kings better give him a beat down tomorrow.

  5. Ryane Clowe is a douche bag. I don’t always follow the rules, but I do have honor and respect. Regardless of the way the bench interference rule is written, I feel the league should suspend and fine The Douche. And because the league doesn’t seem like they are going to take action, the Sharks management should, (but likely will not, as The Douche does have some talent in an important time of the season).

    The Douche’s action was just plain disrespectful to the game. Anyone who disagrees is also a douche. Regardless, Clowe assigned himself as a target and I hope all the playoff contestants take aim and fire !

    • I agree, Clowe is a total douche. Complete and utter douche bag. No sportsmanship. Douche.

    • I agree man, total douche bag. Is that how you spell douche? That is a weird word.

    • I am a huge Sharks fan (except for their announcing) and even I don’t think Clowe should have pulled a stunt like that. But the Kings also had ClockGate karma coming back at ‘em.

  6. Unbelievable!!! He is a disgrace to the game!

  7. It was cheating. 

    The Kings were the better team statistically and completely dominated the first half of the game. Sharks were doing everything they could to keep up with a younger, faster, more physical club. 

    Clowe’s play was a good one for his team, in that it helped them win that game. Long term it might be detrimental as his teammates, and other teams’ players and fans will not forget what happened last night. 

    • will stevens says:

      Interesting comment, but did you notice the Kings were not so “physical” after getting their asses kicked in the fights.  And if you think the hit on Torrey Mitchell was legal, you have no idea what you are talking about:  anyone can blindside their opponent, but it doesn’t count as being “physical”.

  8. hitsomebody says:

    The odd-man rush (it was barely a 3-on-2 since Stoll only had a half-step) wasn’t the point. The point is that it should have been a 2-man advantage for the Kings. And implying that Clowe made a smart play assumes the incompetence we saw from the officials. Otherwise, he has just put his team 2 men down in final 2 1/2 minutes of a must-win game. He turned out to be right, but is that something we want to assume?
    By the way, why was the trailing linesman looking back when the puck was already well up-ice. What call was he expecting to make?

  9. Odd-man rush?  The video above shows a routine 3-on-3, doesn’t it?

    If people are looking for suspendable non-calls that changed the game, how about Colin Fraser’s blind-side late hit that put Torrey Mitchell out for 3/4 of the game (and tomorrow’s rematch, most likely).  Was Mitchell’s absence on the penalty kill and forecheck part of the reason for LA’s 4 powerplay goals?

    •   Reply

    •  Wrong.  Mitchell was spun around by his own player.  Fraser was in the area, but, like the refs, you must have missed the play…

      • Slimjim,

        You’re breathing in way, way too much of that LA smog. Fraser is now a marked man by many not even on the Sharks. Only cowards hit in the back, blindsiding an opponent. Real men face each other, drop their gloves and fight. Now perhaps you will remember the difference.

  10. This one crosses a line so blatant that it is rarely crossed.  The league should change it to a major and grounds for suspension.  The fact that the refs didn’t catch the 2-minute minor it should have been is an absolute joke.  Why don’t referees get disciplined for incompetence?

  11. Karl Trollbig: So, punches that Kings players threw at the faces of Sharks players, after the whistle numerous times earlier in the game (which weren’t shown on Sports Center, nor were any penalties called for them), those don’t feel wrong?  They weren’t just regular scrum shoves and facewashes.  They were actual punches.  No gray area there, yet no outrage from you or others about it.  It’s part of gaining any type of advantage you can, even if it breaks the rules.

    Keep on trolling.

    • Breakthisyadouchebag says:

      You are a complete imbecile. Throwing jabs after the play, locker room pranks, and minor delays are things that ALL teams clearly engage in, and would never be classified as cheating. Maybe unsportsmanlike, but not cheating. There is a HUGE difference between these two. Let me tell what teams DON’T engage in regularly, and what WOULD be classified as cheating. When a player has an outside lane to the net with another teammate crashing on the opposite side in a tied game with minutes to go, and a player from the opposing team leans over the boards, FROM THE BENCH, and plays the puck with his stick. Now THAT is cheating. Clear as day, a direct and blatant interference of puck advancement in a goal scoring situation by a player not even on the freakin ice! I haven’t seen such an audacious level of disrespect for the integrity of the game since Marty McSorley’s slash to the face.
       
      For that post, you deserve a high five.
      To the face.
      With a chair.

    •  Really?  Facewashes go both ways– literally mano-a-man0.  Clowe’s was blatent cheating- completely affecting the game.  Facewashes- not so much.

  12. Karl Selvig says:

    As much as I like to agree with the “if you aren’t cheating you aren’t trying”, this one just feels wrong.  There’s bending the rules to your favor, and then flat out cheating.  Putting in a center to take a face off with no intentions of taking the face off is border line.  Sure it gets the guys a couple extra seconds of rest, but in the grand scheme of things, so what?  Plus there’s always the chance the linesman just drops the puck right away.  Playing the puck from the bench? No gray area there.  

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