More Thoughts on Columbus’ Disputed Goal and the Human Element


In my postgame notes last night, I talked a bit about Cam Atkinson’s disputed game-winning goal for the Blue Jackets, scored after the net had come off its moorings. I want to come back to that, briefly.

When the goal first happened, I was sure they were going to allow it as the position of the goal at the time the puck crossed the line had no impact on the play. The puck crossed the line solidly between where the posts would have been and at ice-level, you could have seen that even if the goal itself was in the zamboni tunnel.

As I said after the game (and brought up on Twitter at the time), I wondered if the fact that Atkinson scored while standing where the post should have been would make a difference. I would assume not but we didn’t get an answer for that, instead we were told it didn’t matter because Brendan Smith was at fault for the net coming off in the first place. And that’s fine, we can’t expect a March game between the Red Wings and Blue Jackets to set a precedent on such an edge-case play.

So what we get is the proper result but a stupid reason for it. That goal should have counted but whether or not Smith pushed Atkinson enough to knock the net loose is not as definite as we were told.

It also brings to mind Smith’s apparent goal against the Minnesota Wild last weekend. In that case, Johan Franzen was pushed into goalie Darcy Kuemper by defenseman Marco Scandella, leading to Smith’s goal being called back due to incidental contact.

Four days ago, when Franzen gets pushed it’s his fault for making contact. Last night, when Atkinson got pushed it was Smith’s fault for doing it.

I think some of the outrage at Atkinson’s goal standing is because of the little bit of cognitive dissonance required for both of those cases to be true.

That said, that’s what baseball fans call the “human element,” isn’t it? The referees won’t always get it right and the game is better for it?

It’s an idea I strongly disagree with. As I said last night, missing calls doesn’t make the game better, it just makes the refs look worse.

Of course, there’s a certain amount of double-think required in being a sports fan. We saw Drew Miller take a high stick, he had to be helped off the ice, but because neither ref saw it, it officially did not happen. Because officials are treated as infallible, there’s not even an admission of having missed it. Video of the play exists but it never occurred.

That’s a bit of hyperbole. You hear mention all the time of even-up calls but that’s not quantifiable, it’s just another manifestation of the human element.

So maybe the outrage comes from expecting an even-up here, one that didn’t happen. Maybe it comes from looking at how Detroit lost a goal against Minnesota and how Columbus scored one against Detroit and not being able to process the double-think, figuratively throwing up your hands, and saying, “This is a joke.”

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996 with no idea what it would lead to. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development.

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