It’s hard to argue against safety.
That seems to be the consensus in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room when it comes to hybrid icing, which is currently being tested in the preseason and could be implemented in the regular season, pending player approval.
“It’s a step in the direction to protect the players. How can you argue with that, and how can you argue with trying it out?” defenseman Jay Harrison said. “The intentions are there, and you have to see it through.”
“You don’t want to see what happened to Joni [Pitkanen],” defenseman Justin Faulk said. “It’s hard to say you don’t want more safety in the game.”
Hybrid icing is designed to avoid heavy collisions into the end boards – which resulted in a broken heel bone for Joni Pitkanen, who is sidelined for the entire 2013-14 season – while still allowing a forward to get to the puck first and keep the play alive.
With hybrid icing, the linesman blows the play dead for icing if the defender is leading or tied with the attacker at the faceoff dot in his own zone. Should the attacker lead the race or be judged to be in best position to touch the puck first (like on a hard rim around the boards), play continues as designed under touch icing.
Through the Canes’ first four preseason games, implementation has received mixed reviews from the ice and the bench.
“It’s been hard to tell, to be honest,” captain Eric Staal said. “I think you have to play it out like you normally would until you hear a whistle.”
“I don’t know. It’s different,” Faulk said. “There are judgment calls being made.”
“I like the idea of it. It will definitely cut down on injuries,” defenseman Brett Bellemore said. “There’s bit of a learning curve for everyone.”
“A little mixed,” head coach Kirk Muller said of his impression from the bench. “I think the players have a better feel as far as when they’re skating for loose opportunities, if there’s still a gray zone.”
The chief concern with hybrid icing relates directly to what Muller said – the gray area of the judgment call.
“Judgment calls are tough, especially when the game happens at that speed,” Harrison said.
“There’s probably a little more gray area, but it’s another step to eliminate an injury like what happened to Joni Pitkanen, which is important,” Staal said. “If it does go through, there will be more arguments with the linesman. As long as they can handle that, that’s what’s going to happen because guys are going to be in disagreement on who would’ve or wouldn’t have been there.”
“It puts a little more pressure on the linesman to skate and keep up the pace,” Muller said. “On the hard rims, do they have a read on who’s the first guy?”
Hybrid icing was used in the American Hockey League last season until mid-January, when it was eliminated to create a streamlined experience for players being called up to the NHL after the work stoppage.
In Charlotte, Bellemore played 40 regular season games with hybrid icing.
“You’d always get the odd time where you’d swear you’d get there first, and the linesman doesn’t call it in your favor, but that’s their judgment,” he said. “You put it in there hands, and take some injuries out of the game.”
According to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, the Players’ Association has begun conducting a player survey on hybrid icing. The players must give their approval for the rule to be carried over into the regular season, which begins on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
The Hurricanes locker room was largely unsure of whether it would pass.
“I honestly have no idea,” Staal said. “We haven’t really talked about it. We’ve been playing the games, and when you’re going through training camp and preseason games, there are a lot of other things you’re trying to worry about than that.”
“We actually haven’t really had much dialogue about it, so I guess that kind of speaks volumes in itself,” Harrison said. “The fact that we haven’t been talking about it must mean it fits in pretty good.”
Ultimately, despite the supposed drawbacks of the rule, the sense is that it’s difficult to vote against the end goal of safety.
“Anything to eliminate [touch] icing would be great,” Muller said. “If they feel like it’s pretty easy to play off of … I think it’s better than the old way.”
“If it saves one career-ending injury, then it’s worth it,” Harrison said.