TORONTO -- Hybrid icing will be in effect for the start of the 2013-14 NHL regular season after it was approved by the players.
The NHLPA gave the go-ahead for the rule change that makes icing a race to an imaginary line across the faceoff dots instead of the puck, which was given a trial run during the pre-season. The goal is to prevent serious injuries, like the one that sidelined Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Joni Pitkanen for the entire season.
Pitkanen broke his left heel bone in eight places on an icing touch-up in April. It's a similar injury to the one suffered by former Washington Capitals forward Pat Peake, whose career ended not too long after.
"After testing hybrid icing during the pre-season games, the players participated in a survey and a majority of teams supported this rule change in an effort to make the game safer," NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider said in a statement. "We are hopeful that the implementation of the hybrid icing rule, which is a middle ground between the old rule and no-touch icing, will help minimize the incidence of player injuries on icing plays."
Some players seemed happy with the change.
"I think it's good. It kind of brings the race a little bit further away from the end boards," Toronto Maple Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk said. "Once they do blow it or decide what to do with it, it gives you more time to react."
Others expressed some doubts about hybrid icing, most notably hesitancy or unfamiliarity on the part of the linesman who has to make the call.
"The normal reaction is right away 'Oh, we don't like it,' " Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "If the hybrid icing saves one injury this year, it's worth it."
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said in a phone interview last week he hopes hybrid icing represents "an obvious safety improvement (that is) not otherwise damaging to the game," but conceded it's different from his vantage point and those of players'.
"It's going to require adjustment and while we've seen it ultimately work in college and in other leagues, it's not the same as playing in the NHL, and we're going to have to watch it very carefully because our game is played at a higher speed than anywhere else," commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The AHL experimented with it last season during the NHL lockout, and it came with mixed reviews from players and coaches.
-- The Canadian Press