I usually try to avoid criticizing officials. Most of them, especially in the ECHL, are young guys trying to make it up to the higher leagues, just like the players.
But what I saw in the Quad-City Mallards' 3-2 shootout loss to Cincinnati Sunday night was more than just a missed call or two, it was the first time I've ever seen an official impact a game in multiple instances.
Before I get into it, I won't say the Mallards deserved to win. They outplayed Cincinnati for much of the game, but Mark Visentin was great in net and the Mallards didn't capitalize on some chances. The first goal of the game came on a defensive zone breakdown and maybe should have been stopped by Vay. All told, the Mallards could have won, but didn't dominate.
That said, the officials determined who won this game.
I do not know how a referee doesn't blow his whistle and stop play when a goaltender and a player are tangled up like we saw tonight. Whether it was a penalty on Vay (it wasn't) or a penalty on Sims (it was), the referee still needs to at least signal that a penalty is coming, and realistically, stop play. When a goal is scored in that instance, you have to disallow it.
We've seen goaltenders get mixed up away from the play, players slashed behind the officials, and while those aren't great, they're acceptable because there are only three officials down at this level, and calls are going to be missed.
Tonight, the altercation in the net happened right in front of Lucas Martin, who signaled the goal. He was watching the play the whole time, and swallowed his whistle. That is inexcusable at any level of hockey.
Now, Alex Petan, and the Mallards in general, need to learn to keep their cool in these situations, because that goal could have easily snowballed into two or three. Because Petan disputed the call (which he had a pretty good reason to), he was hit with a penalty, then, likely out of some frustration, Brady Brassart is hit with a 5 minute boarding call and a game misconduct.
The hit was bad, and a penalty likely should have been given, but if Huard hadn't been down on the ice (he came back to play) and the circumstances hadn't been what they were, I imagine Brassart would have been hit with a two, maybe a four minute call for boarding. Instead, he missed the second half of the game and likely will have to serve a suspension.
All because an easily made call was bafflingly missed.
Now, as far as the shootout goes, I couldn't see Petan's shot from where I am sitting, but if the puck crosses the line, which it did, you would think it's a goal. Perhaps the official was too quick to blow the play dead, but it's not a good look when a goalie is fishing the puck out of the net but no goal has been rewarded.
As for the game-winner, I thought it hit under and behind the crossbar, but on review I wasn't so sure. And to complicate things, the referee didn't even signal goal right away, instead conferring with his linesman to make the call. After not conferring on Petan's goal, not conferring on Atwal's goal, to confer on the game-winning shootout goal doesn't look good. It looks indecisive, and after the night that had just unfolded, was a bad and frustrating way to end a hockey game.
But, at the end of the day, there's nothing that can be done. The Mallards are submitting video and complaints, but that will only do so much. It won't change the outcome of the game.
What the game did show me was that the Mallards are a team that can fight through some adversity. Tying the game late, after what had happened in the second period, was a huge character win for the team, and though they didn't get two points, to come away with one point from that debacle is a small win.
As for the officials, I have to believe this was just a bad night. Players have bad nights, coaches have bad nights, and officials can have bad nights. But, being officials, they are criticized more often than not, no matter what they do.
The criticism here is earned, but not the end of the world. Lucas Martin, William Hancock and Ian McCambridge are all young men trying to work their way up the ladder to higher leagues. Hopefully they use tonight as a learning experience and avoid making the same mistakes twice.