Minor league mooring malfunctions highlight disparity between NHL and the rest
Heading into the third period of Saturday night’s tilt between the Tucson Roadrunners and the Rockford IceHogs, Rockford starter Collin Delia had knocked the net off of its mooring four times.
By the time the game was over, it had been knocked off at least four more times; the final time, the on-ice officials finally dinged Delia with a two-minute delay of game penalty.
For Delia, this was nothing new.
The 24-year-old Chicago prospect plays hard on the posts, using the toe cap of his skate to anchor himself when he’s trying to seal for a sharp-angle shot or get across the crease.
When the pegs are properly anchored in the ice, it does nothing. During practices where the ice isn’t being re-flooded and when the pegs are drilled deeply enough into the ice, particularly at the NHL level where moorings are standardized, nothing happens when a goaltender uses the posts as an anchor, a launching point, or a pivot.
When the pegs aren’t properly anchored, the holes aren’t drilled deeply enough, or the pegs are substandard, though, it’s almost as if the net was never drilled in. After the game, Delia confirmed that at rinks like this, if you hit the post hard enough – even if the end goal isn’t to dislodge the netting – the entire unit goes sliding.
To Delia’s credit, this isn’t a problem exclusive to the Tucson Convention Center, where the AHL’s Roadrunners play their games. It’s a fairly common occurrence at this point, and Delia wasn’t particularly surprised to have it happen again.
The problem, of course, was that he got dinged for a delay of game penalty, and the game lost momentum on eight different occasions solely because the net wouldn’t stay in place.
At the TCC, the last goaltender to play an aggressive enough post integration game to dislodge the net throughout the night was then-Texas Stars goaltender Mike McKenna. He found himself waiting for the pegs to get re-drilled a handful of times in that game as well — and although no penalty was called, it’s happened to him before.
“I’ve gotten delay of game penalties in rinks purely because the pegs are substandard,” he told InGoal, following Delia’s difficult night in Tucson. “But after you knock it off a few times, they eventually decide that’s enough and put you in the box. It sucks.”
The reasoning, he explained, is the types of pegs used at the minor league level — where things aren’t nearly as well-standardized as they are up in the NHL.
“The rinks have pipes that are so close that they have to use these pegs that are 1″ wide tops and can come off so easily. NHL rinks are all standardized,” he said.
“My heart goes out to [Delia]. I’m hard on my posts and anything less than NHL standard is a mess.”
The game didn’t turn in Tucson’s favor as a result of the two-minute minor. When the delay of game was called, Rockford was already winning, and a weak Tucson power-play failed to convert despite the bizarre circumstances for the visiting team.
According to Delia, though, this isn’t the first time he’s been called for something like this, and it’s a pain every time.
“I’m not sure what to say,” he admitted. “It is what it is.” But with a refusal to change his game to adapt to the net, it make for a sluggish night – and one that ultimately cost his team two minutes of even-strength play.
For a goaltender considered to be one of the league’s future NHLers — many think he’s got a shot to challenge in Chicago in the coming years as a number two — it’s not something that Delia is willing to let change his game.
But given how it chopped up the game with at least four separate delays as the officials tried to re-anchor the pegs, it’s a situation that should instead be a starting point for looking at the standards of how pegs are anchored at the minor league level.
“When you flood the ice repeatedly, the water then re-freezes below the pegs and pushes these narrow pegs up,” Delia explained, reiterating what McKenna said about the peg sizing causing problems.
There’s no easy solution, especially given that goaltenders shouldn’t have to change their style of play to adapt to minor league rink equipment. If a goaltender anchors inside the posts on a regular basis, and plays effectively using that style, they shouldn’t then have to adapt and potentially diminish their quality of play over a technical malfunction.
For many minor league rinks, though, the ice surface isn’t state-of-the-art. Although the American Hockey League is one of the highest qualities of professional hockey available for spectators to watch, the finances behind the league limit the ability of teams to construct rinks made to the perfect specifications.
The result is situations like Saturday night’s, or last year’s in Mike McKenna’s playoff appearance. And even if it doesn’t affect how the goaltender plays, it still affects the pace of the game.
Rockford head coach Jeremy Colliton didn’t want to comment on the technical aspects of the moorings, jokingly insisting on “staying in his lane” when it came to the finer details of what went wrong with the nets.
He did say, though, that as a coach it is frustrating from a pacing standpoint.
“It breaks up the flow of the game for both teams, really,” he conceded. “But it… it does ruin the momentum. And I can’t comment to the technical aspect of it, but no one wants the game to get broken up like that multiple times.”
From a league perspective, it’s a tough sell to require every rink to renovate and meet the same standards as the NHL rinks. The funding has to come from somewhere – and while some of the AHL teams are owned by NHL clubs, some remain independently operated and would be put in a difficult position.
For the goaltenders, though, it’s a hassle at best – and if things go wrong, it’s the kind of malfunction that could cost a team a game.