Who turns on the red light?
By Stu Hackel
So there we were at the Grill after our usual Tuesday skate and on the TV was the overtime of the Sabres-Bruins game. Buffalo’s Luke Adam was given a double-minor for high-sticking Marc Savard and the chances of a team scoring while playing four-on-three in OT are pretty good. Sure enough, after a spell of throwing the puck around to set up a few good shots, David Krejci of the Bruins sends a pass to Dennis Seidenberg, who cranks a shot that Mark Recchi deflects. The goal was immediately waved off by the referee...
....and play continued for nearly another minute before there was a whistle and the replays could be checked.
"What happens if Buffalo scored before the whistle?" asked some guy in a business suit who was with a group of well-dressed co-workers at a table away from the bar. We explained the rule, that the first goal counts and whatever happened afterward doesn't (which isn't entirely true, because if someone takes a penalty in that situation, it does get assessed, but before we could tell him that, he resumed speaking to the blonde next to him).
We were waiting to see the replays on TV and Doc, one of our guys, asked, "How come the goal judge didn't see it?" It was good question.
Since the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of organized hockey, someone has been stationed right behind the goalie to signal if a puck has entered the goal. In the early days, he stood right on the ice, and was called an umpire. He waved a flag to signal a goal. Umpires were mere fans deputized for the task. If their impartiality was questioned (imagine that!) another fan would take their place.
In the days before netting, when mere posts marked the goal, the umpire had to be made of stern stuff, especially if a team felt it deserved a goal that he didn't award. That team might fire a few wide or high shots in umpire's direction to express displeasure.
As the game developed with nets and boards and such, goal judges were relocated off the ice in the first row behind the net. They first were hired by the home team and eventually became league-employed minor officials. They got rid of the flags and began the common practice of turning on a red light to signal a goal.
It stayed that way for most of the game's history, the only major changes being that during the playoffs, the goal judges, along with all the minor officials, would be imported from another NHL city to ensure impartiality. Plexiglass booths were mandated so the goal judges weren't attacked by fans or players, which sometimes happened.
In one famous 1965 incident at the old Madison Square Garden, goal judge Arthur Reichert credited the Red Wings' Floyd Smith with a goal that the Rangers disputed. Rangers GM Emile Francis left his seat to confront Reichert, whose place behind the net was not enclosed or protected in any way. But the 5-foot-6, 150-pound Francis was accosted by some fans around Reichert. One of them weighed in at 250. Francis did get some shots in, but when the Rangers saw the brawl developing, eight of them, led by future captain Vic Hadfield, scaled the nine-foot-high glass behind the goal and a few others waded into the stands to come to their boss's rescue.
Reichert was barely jostled in the melee, but Francis was bruised above one eye, cut under the other and he need stitches. The Rangers initially banned Reichert from the Garden, but NHL president Clarence Campbell interceded, had him reinstated, faulted Francis for the wild scene and ordered the Rangers to install booths, which some other rinks had already erected, so the goal judges could be protected.
Even the glass booth, however, could not spare the judges some indignities...
...but as I told Doc, I thought all the goal judges had now been resettled away from their traditional spot behind the net and into the press box. The advent of the video replay system made some owners think the goal judges were unnecessary and they wanted to sell those prime seats, I said. You don't see a goal judge behind the net in Boston (although if he had been there, there's no guarantee he would have seen Recchi's shot go in, either).
But I wanted to be sure of things, so today I phoned the NHL and learned that after the lockout, the teams were given the option of relocating their goal judges or keeping them in place. It turns out, about half of them are still behind the net and others have been repositioned to locations where they have good views of the goal. In some buildings, they are on catwalks that are nearly as advantageous as the overhead cameras the league uses for its video review system.
These guys are still turning on the red lights, no matter where they are located. It's one of those charming things about hockey that has been around almost as long as the game. So charming, the bosses here named this blog after it.