When Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl scored that breathtaking, between-the-legs goal with his team holding a lopsided lead on the Rangers, it was suggested by many that the youngster broke "the code." Which got me thinking, what exactly is "the code?"
When San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl scored that breathtaking, between-the-legs goal with his team holding a lopsided lead on the New York Rangers, it was suggested by many that the youngster broke "the code."Which got me thinking, what exactly is "the code?"
"I played 18 years in the NHL and when people talk about 'the code' I still have no idea what the hell they are talking about," says former NHL player and coach Rick Tocchet.
Obviously, there are some things you do or don't do in certain situations, such as celebrating wildly following a goal when you are ahead by a large margin, but Hertl didn't do that even though he had four goals in the game.
"If he had done that, then perhaps I would have had an issue with it," Tocchet says. "The kid celebrated the goal, but no differently than any other goal he scored."
In other words, he didn't go all Tiger Williams and ride his stick in front of the other team's bench. He didn't go all Alex Ovechkin and drop his stick, waving his hands over it like it was on fire. You get the idea.
There are certain types of acceptable behavior that have been established in the NHL over the years, but as far as being part of a "code" nothing is set in stone. They include:
Don't punch a player in a fight after he is down on the ice.
Tough guys don't fight skilled players.
Teams don't use their first power-play unit when leading by a handful of goals.
Don't call a time out late in a game you are way ahead in.
If you are breaking in on an open net with a teammate who has two goals, pass to him so he can get his hat trick.
Don't shoot the puck at the other team's goalie after the whistle.
Home-team broadcasters never say the word "shutout" late in games when their team has not allowed a goal.
Don't step on the team logo inside the dressing room.
It goes on and on and on. And most of it is malarkey.
With the exception of a broadcaster saying the word "shutout" and stepping on the team's logo (why is it on the floor anyway?), which are just plain goofy, most things that fall under hockey's unwritten code are merely common sense. By the way, I often step on team logos in the dressing room just to drive the dressing room attendants nuts.
Tocchet says there are no hard and fast rules for players to follow and some things that fall under "the code" fly out the window depending on the circumstances of any given game.
"If I got in a fight with a guy, it depended on who it was and what he had done to me, but I would hit a guy when he was down," Tocchet says. "I fought a guy once who gouged me in the eye and you're damn right I hit him when he was down. I would do the same thing today, so there's no code there."
Edler out of line
I was once coaching a minor hockey game in which my team of 11-12 year olds was ahead 9-0. Once we got up by four or five, I put my best forwards on defence and moved some of my defencemen up front. We also had the kids make at least three passes before taking a shot in an effort not to run up the score. However, the weakest player on the team scored his first goal -- ever! -- and the bench naturally erupted in support of the kid. The coach for the other team gave me the hairy eyeball because we had broken "the code" but he was OK after I explained the situation.
"Obviously, if you're up 7-1, whether it's the code or not, I wouldn't be fist-pumping after scoring a goal," Tocchet says. "Some players call it 'the code' and I still don't know what they're talking about. To me it is simple common sense."
In Hertl's case, Tocchet says people lose sight of the object of the game.
"I don't care if a player does a triple Salchow after scoring in most instances," he says. "Or you can do summersaults, it doesn't matter to me. The object of the game is to score goals.
"I thought [Hertl's] celebration was kind of reserved. It doesn't happen in hockey very often, but in football if you are down 30-6 with eight minutes left and you punish a guy and then do a dance, it's embarrassing. In hockey if we were losing 6-0 and a guy on our team celebrated wildly after a goal, he'd hear about it from the rest of the team. That's not anything to do with a code, it's just common sense."
And yet others took exception to a fresh-faced rookie scoring a goal that will be shown for years to come because he may have embarrassed the other team's goalie. Is it just a coincidence that in the Sharks' next game, against Vancouver, Canucks defenceman Alex Edler delivered a head shot on Hertl that drew him a three-game suspension?
Hertl is out with a concussion from that hit. If Edler did that because of the great goal Hertl scored against the Rangers, then shame on him.
Because if that is the case, then maybe it was Edler that broke "the code." Whatever that is.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.