[updated with NHL statement]
On Friday night, in the midst of a hard fought battle between the Blues and Avalanche in 3-on-3 overtime, Colton Parayko lost his stick in the corner. Knowing how valuable his big bodied defenseman is in his own zone, Vladimir Tarasenko handed his stick to Parayko.
After slowing down a high danger opportunity from Nathan Mackinnon without a stick, Tarasenko rushes to the corner to pick up Parayko’s discarded twig. As soon as the referee at the top of the zone sees that Tarasenko has the stick in hand, he blows the whistle, stopping the play and calls a penalty on St. Louis. Two minutes for illegal equipment, and Tarasenko heads to the box.
But why? It seems like a normal play. Players use each other’s equipment all of the time, they hand off sticks on the bench. They pick up discarded equipment. Heck, Ben Bishop once used a skater’s stick in goal when his stick was lost on a play. What makes this particular instance different?
Colton Parayko. The 6’6″ defenseman has an ‘exempt’ status from the NHL for rule 10.1, meaning that he is so tall that his stick does not fit into the guidelines set out by the NHL limiting the size of a skaters stick, so that no one can have an unfair or dangerous reach.
So, when Tarasenko picked up Colton’s stick, he now had an unfair advantage against other skaters his size, and broke rule 10.1, sending him to the penalty box and the Colorado Avalanche to the Power Play.
Now it worked out for the Blues in this instance. 35 seconds into the Colorado power play, Ryan O’Reilly scores on a short handed breakaway, securing the win for his team. But it doesn’t solve the fact that NO ONE knew this rule.
The announcers on the broadcast explained that every player on the Blues bench was yelling at Tarasenko to grab Parayko’s discarded stick. It was the obvious move. But this unknown rule put the Blues at risk of losing the game.
Moving forward, players now know not to touch Parayko’s stick. That players over a certain height have exempt status and its better not to risk it. But how was this not made more clear to the players? How are there not circumstances where rule 10.1 is disregarded, like when a non-broken stick is discarded on the ice? How are those sticks not marked by a sticker or band as ‘exempt’? This is a rule we know now, but needed to be made more aware of before hand. Because if the Colorado Avalanche had won on that power play, Toronto would be hearing about it today.
UPDATE: the NHL has issued a statement via Jeremy Rutherford that they do NOT want this penalty called in games and is merely for the purpose of discouraging players from using truly illegal equipment. In game switches are seen as emergencies, and players should not have to mentally keep track of which sticks are and are not viable for usage.