Why do faceoffs have to be so fair?

Jason Kay
Ottawa Senators v Detroit Red Wings

Before technology started shrinking our world and co-mingling cultures in ways we’d never imagined, being Canadian meant being uniquely paradoxical. Quietly patriotic. Fiercely polite. Moderately tolerant. It’s amazing the flag is red and white, and not several shades of grey, just not 50.

The quirkiness extended into our national passion. For the longest time, when two teams battled hard and scored the same number of goals in a contest, we were content, proud even, to reward them both with one point. No winner, no loser. Very Canadian. Even the overtime and shootout format retains the quaint (or infuriating, depending on your perspective) ideal of sending everyone home with something.

And then there’s the faceoff, the subject of frequent derision, especially in the playoffs. While hockey fans everywhere – not just the new breed of Canadians – go postal over the delays at the dots, you know this tradition has its roots in good, old Canuck fairness. Think about it. In what other sport does an offending team get so many second chances?

But that’s precisely what happens in hockey. When a defending team’s goalie freezes a puck, or one of its defenders tips it out of play, his club gets a 50 per cent chance of getting possession back immediately. If an attacking team causes a delay of game by going offside, they, too, get invited to win back the disc right away.

No other sport operates with such benevolence. When the ball goes out of bounds in soccer or basketball, possession goes to the opponent. When a team is flagged for delay of game in football, they are penalized yardage. In baseball, when you hit the ball foul, it’s a strike against you. In hockey, all is forgiven. Instantly.

If we like this about ourselves, then carry on. Just stop jeering linesmen for trying to keep the faceoffs fair. If, however, it gives you pause for thought, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the role of the draw in our game.

The solution? Somehow give immediate possession of the puck to the non-offending team following whistles, without drastically altering how the game is played. Easier said then done, perhaps, but we’ll hand the baton off, very politely, to Brendan Shanahan’s R&D department. Ummm, sorry Brendan.