A 10-year-old Ontario goalie left a game Saturday in tears. He wanted a whistle that never sounded. Now his father wants a rule change.
Kai Bryja was playing goal for his Atom Grey-Bruce Highlanders AAA team at Chesley Arena when a skater on the opposing Buffalo Regals knocked off his glove and banged up his wrist during a crease-front scramble, leaving his left hand exposed.
Kai waved his bare hand at the official in effort to get a stoppage in play, but Buffalo continued to work the puck around his zone for almost two minutes, firing multiple shots at Kai’s net. An attempt by a teammate to hand Kai his glove back failed.
The glove-less boy jammed his bare hand under his leg pad for protection as parents and coaches screamed for a whistle. A Highlanders coach open and slammed the bench door shut, hoping the banging would knock some sense into the referees. Down a glove, Kai made a pad save and a blocker save.
Jason Playter, the father of Kai's goaltending partner, was recording the game. He stopped to rush down from the stands and yell at the refs, too.
Here is what Playter filmed:
"His team just couldn't clear the puck out of his zone," Kai's dad, John, says. "He was in tears when they finally got a whistle, as were some of his teammates on the bench. I told him if it ever happens again to take a [delay-of-game] penalty and knock the net off. Hockey is not worth losing fingers."
Kai's mother, Barb, questioned the referees after the game. They told her there was no rule preventing a minor hockey goaltender's from facing shots with a bare hand. Only if a goalie's neck guard or helmet pops off can they stop play.
"Most officials I have spoken to have stated that it is not a rule to blow the play dead when the goalie loses his glove but they do anyway out of common sense," says John. "Everyone I speak to can't believe this isn't a rule for kids."
Now John has set about getting a rule in place for this risky and rare scenario.
Rare but not unprecedented. Back in 1984, 17-year-old goaltender Dean Shaw had two fingers sliced off — and reattached — when he lost his glove during a similar scramble in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
"Right now, there is no rule in place that addresses this situation," Hockey Canada media spokesperson Francis Dupont told Sportsnet when we reached out to Todd Anderson, Hockey Canada's senior officiating manager.
"There are some competition issues in bringing in a regulation like this and we need to factor those in, but the safety of our participants is of paramount importance to us. We thank the family of making us aware of the potential for injury surrounding a circumstance like this and hope they will work with their local governing body to bring forward a playing rule change motion that can be considered by Hockey Canada within the confines of our bylaws."
Coincidentally, there is an NHL connection here.
Jon Elkin, the Arizona Coyotes' new goaltending coach, actually taught Kai this summer at goalie camp.
Now Elkin's main responsibility is improving the play of Mike Smith, who memorably lost his glove — thanks to Dustin Brown — during a 2012 playoff game versus the Los Angeles Kings:
Out of curiosity, we asked the NHL how it would handle a situation like Kai's.
"A referee, in his judgement, can stop play if a goalkeeper loses his blocker or catching glove, if there is NO immediate and impending scoring opportunity," Don Van Massenhoven writes.
"Rule 9.6 only refers to the goaltenders' helmet/visor/mask, but we have always used common sense in protecting the goaltender from any potential injury, so once any scoring chance is completed or gone, the play can/would be stopped."
We can understand why a paid adult — and one capable of sneakily popping the net off to get a whistle — can endure that risk. For a 10-year-old kid, however, it sounds like the rule book needs to make up for the failures of common sense.
"I have a gut feeling this rule will be changed really quickly," says John, who is now proposing a rule change via the Highlanders to the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.
"It's too big of a liability issue."
(video courtesy of Jason Playter)