By: Mike McKenna
At 7:03 into the third period of Saturday night’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights, NHL referee Chris Schlenker issued a two-minute minor penalty for delaying the game on the goaltender. of the Thatcher Demko Canucks.
It was a brutal call.
I can tell you from personal experience that – unequivocally – Thatcher Demko did not purposely push the net. He got into a post-RVH integration routine – a technique that’s used dozens of times during a match – and the stakes that hold the net in place have failed.
Watch Demko’s reaction to the call. He is furious and begs referee Chris Schlenker to cancel the penalty.
I was in his skates and my blood boiled every time I was penalized. Not only was my team down, but the referee basically saw me as a cheater. However, it was not my fault that the net and stakes failed. I was just doing my job. When the referee refused to believe my argument that it was unintentional, the sting only got worse.
As a goalkeeper, it burns your soul. These sanctions make us look like liars. The public is on board and that fuels the narrative that goalkeepers are happy to push the net whenever they feel like it. While in reality, probably 95 percent of the time, this is not the case.
NHL nets are anchored into the concrete below the ice surface using standard rubber stakes that extend upward into the goal frame. The net must be pushed vertically to be overturned – when the stakes are correctly installed. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
As you can see from the aerial replay, Demko only exerts lateral pressure on the post as he enters RVH. His back leg pushes his body against the hot iron, creating a puck-resistant seal on the short side. It’s routine. The guards do this regularly without incident. But in this case, the net came off immediately.
Why? Less than two minutes before the penalty was assessed on Demko, Golden Knights forward Keegan Kolesar slammed into the crease and blew the net. And I believe it was not put back in place properly.
See how much force it takes to drop the net? It’s not a little slap. Kolesar weighs well over 200 pounds and was slammed into the cage by a backchecking JT Miller. He hits the net hard enough to force it up. The rubber ankles bend and eventually become overwhelmed by the pressure, causing them to loosen.
Compare Kolesar’s crisp contact with Demko’s and the difference is striking. It’s like comparing a gasoline leaf blower to one of those portable fans you buy at the convenience store. It’s not even far away.
How did the net come off so easily for Demko? Watch the video of Kolesar leading the net and notice linesman Kyle Flemington at the very end of the clip. He grabs the net and begins to put it back in place.
Now I don’t see what happens next. But I have a really good guess – because it has happened countless times in my career.
Flemington either put the net back in place and let the stakes fall into the concrete, or he replaced the stakes and then put the net back on them. Sometimes that’s good enough. Often, however, the stakes do not sink completely into the concrete and the net becomes unstable.
A goalkeeper can sense it immediately. The first time you switch to the RVH and press against the post, it feels loose. It always made me nervous: do I lean hard on the post as usual, even if it might loosen the net? Or did I play it cautiously and potentially lost my technique and power? Either way, I felt like I was making a losing decision.
In this case, I don’t think the net was fully anchored. The moment Demko made contact with his skate blade against the post, it failed. It shouldn’t have been that easy.
So how can the NHL prevent these situations?
I think it’s easy. Do not let the officials on the ice put the nets back. As easy as that. I think a rink attendant needs to be on skates at all times ready to go out on the ice and make sure the net is properly anchored.
Will it slow down the game? Not if they are prepared. Opening the Zamboni gate takes a few seconds. Skating the entire length of the ice and coming back takes less than a minute. Take out the cordless drill with the fast drill bit. Prepare a small shop vacuum to remove snow and water from the hole. Do whatever is necessary to make sure the nets stay in place.
Public servants shouldn’t have to worry about replacing nets. They have more important things on their plate during an NHL game. Let the professional rink team take care of it.
This whole scenario was preventable. Chris Schlenker looks bad. Thatcher Demko looks bad. Kyle Flemington looks bad. When in reality, they are all trying to do their jobs. Hopefully the NHL takes note and puts a protocol in place to prevent this from happening again.