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Intent to Blow the Whistle

Should the NHL revisit the "intent to blow the whistle" rule?

Video review of a goal
Video review of a goal
Doug Pensinger

Anyone that knows me knows I despise reading fiction. This has been the case since I was very young. If I was given reference material or a history book I could sit down and read for hours on end. When I was in 5th or 6th grade I was given a book about strange sports facts, the title of the book eludes me but that isn't the point of this article anyway.

There was one story in particular that I remembered reading from that book. It was about a NCAA/International Basketball referee named Ron Foxcroft and his invention. At the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, in the gold medal game between the USA and Yugoslavia, a foul was missed when the "pea" in the whistle got jammed and of course it got a reaction from the crowd. After that incident Foxcroft worked for almost a decade to change the design of the whistle. What he ended up with was the Fox 40 whistle, a pealess and loud whistle that is used in almost every sport today.

The NHL started using the Fox 40 in the 2000-01 season and continues to use it today. Interestingly the NHL has two rules which seem in place due to the old "pea" style whistle.

31.2 Disputes - The Referees shall have general supervision of the game and shall have full control of all game officials and players during the game, including stoppages; and in case of any dispute, their decision shall be final.

As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.

78.5 Disallowed Goals - Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee and the appropriate announcement made by the Public Address Announcer for the following reasons:

(xii) When the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle.

I tried to research the history on these rules to see when they were implemented in order to understand if they were recent rules or not. The latter rule 78.5 (xii) was implemented in the 1995-96 season after an incident between the New York Rangers and the Quebec Nordiques. I was unable to find reference as to when the former rule, 31.2, was implemented but I know it did exist in 1995.

The Fox 40 whistle was patented in 1985 and started to appear in sport somewhere around 1987. The decision for the NHL to start using the Fox 40 in the 2000-01 season makes sense. The whistle was a relatively new technology and it had to be tested before they could implement its use. The problems that the old "pea" style whistle virtually disappeared as soon as the NHL changed to the Fox 40 but the "intent to blow the whistle" rules still stuck around.

So why is this rule still around? My guess is that it has to do with the first line in the second paragraph of rule 31.2, "There is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play". If the NHL removes this rule it could be seen as undermining the on ice official's authority. Officials are represented by the NHL Officials Association and like the NHLPA probably have some say in the wording of the rules. I am not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination but that would be my guess.

Other professional sports like soccer, football and basketball play to the whistle. Intent to blow the whistle is not part of the game. The NHL doesn't overturn final decisions in games, once the game is completed the score is what it is and cannot be overturned even if the outcome should have been different. Technology has advanced enough that this should be a non-issue; the only time that this could come up is if for whatever reason the referee drops his whistle and can't blow the play dead. This is an antiquated rule and should be changed. There are other ways to monitor this, video and audio review to name a couple. If there is an official in Toronto watching every game on video, they need to be the final authority, it is the only way to reduce human error/reaction.

What do you think?