When the NHL's referees report to training camp at the end of the summer, they will have a new rule to digest, one banning blindside shoulder hits to the head, but the league's longest-serving referee does not think it will present a problem for them.
The rule was finally adopted after years of controversy about hits that left star players concussed. But Bill McCreary, 54, who is in his 26th year as an NHL referee, said Friday that since there are relatively few such hits, it will not mean much of an adjustment for him and his peers.
"I really don't see it as a major change," he said. "We're really talking about a few isolated incidents. Two hits stood out in my mind from last season."
The two hits McCreary was talking about were the two that generated most of the controversy last season and drove the final debate in adopting the rule, which was approved by the board of governors on Thursday.
The first hit came early in the 2009-10 season when Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers knocked out Florida Panthers forward David Booth for 45 games with a blindside hit that left him with a severe concussion.
The other was a late-season hit by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke on Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins that kept him out of the rest of the regular season and most of the playoffs.
Under the new rule, any hard hit to the head from the shoulder that comes from behind or the blindside (usually in an east-to-west motion in NHL parlance) will result in a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
The offender will also be subject to supplemental discipline from NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.