Joe Ernst has seen a lot of hockey over the past two decades.
But Ernst, the ECHL's vice president of hockey operations, had never witnessed anything like what he saw on his computer monitor Monday night in the second period of South Carolina's game with the Florida Everblades.
Trailing 2-0 midway through the second period, the Stingrays were on the power play. South Carolina defenseman Zach Tarkir was coming around from behind the Stingrays net and got his skates tangled up with the net.
The net came off its pegs about six inches, but play continued 200 feet down the ice for more than a minute. Stingrays goalie Philipp Grubauer noticed the net was dislodged and tried to get the attention of the two linesmen and referee Curtis Marouelli, to no avail.
There was a turnover and the Everblades came down on an odd man rush. As the Everblades entered the Stingrays' defensive zone, Grubauer backed up into the net to even further move it off its moorings in hopes that Marouelli would blow the play dead.
It didn't happen. The net was facing at a 40-degree angle when Florida defenseman Mike Ratchuk shot the puck. It crossed the goal line and would have gone into the net had it not been displaced. Marouelli allowed the goal and the Everblades led 3-0. The Stingrays would eventually rally with four straight goals and win the game, 4-3.
But 700 miles away in Princeton, N.J., Ernst sat dumbfounded.
"I've been doing this 21 years, and I'd never seen anything like it," Ernst said.
According to the ECHL's rule book, a two-minute minor penalty can be enforced when the net is "deliberately displaced" by a defending player.
Ernst said that not only should the goal have been disallowed, but the Stingrays shouldn't have been hit with a penalty.
"It was the wrong call. They got it wrong. There should have been a whistle and a faceoff," Ernst said. "I've never seen a goal allowed when the net was sideways.
"At the very worst, they could have called a delay of game minor penalty, but you can see on the video that the net wasn't dislodged on purpose. The responsibility of putting the net back on its pegs is not the goaltender's."
Ernst said he spoke with Marouelli following the game and the two discussed the play in question.
"I wanted to know what he saw because sometimes you don't see everything on the video," Ernst said. "He walked me through what happened and we talked about what should have happened."
Ernst said any discipline for Marouelli and the linesmen will be handled by the league office.
"We're not going to make it public," Ernest said.
With 2.3 seconds left in the game, Marouelli awarded the Everblades a penalty shot when the Stingrays' net was displaced for a second time.
"(Marouelli) was 100 percent right on that one," Ernst said. "The net was deliberately knocked off, and it came in the last two minutes of the game. That's a penalty shot."
Ernst said he hopes he never sees a play like Monday night's again.
"It better not happen again," Ernst said. "We're lucky it didn't come back to bite anyone. It's not something that we want or are going to tolerate. The officials should know the rules."
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