The 1996-97 implementation of the so-called Rob Ray rule—which handicaps players like Rob Ray, the Buffalo Sabres' enforcer who, when a fight began, could shed his top faster than Brandi Chastain—has darkened most cruiserweights' careers. Unencumbered by bulky sweaters (and more important, by not giving Goliaths anything to grab during fisticuffs), smaller fighters often could successfully duke it out with bigger men. Now, with tied-down jerseys, these fighters are reduced to notching or otherwise roughing up the plastic of their helmets, stunts that can leave an indelible reminder on a puncher's knuckles but smack of tawdriness.
Ray, however, says fighters still have at least one trick up their sleeves: Elbow pads. "If you know you're going to fight, leave your elbow pads on the bench," Ray says. "That leaves you a lot freer. Refs are always checking the sweater to make sure it's tied down so you can't slip your arm out of it and punch. But they aren't looking to see if you've got elbow pads."
Even with the lines, drawn in 1996-97, that oblige centers to stand square in the circles, injured Calgary center Jeff Shantz says, "face-offs are won and lost mostly by whoever cheats the best." Because the visiting player must put his blade on the ice first, a dawdling home-team center can take time to discuss the draw—or the weather—with teammates positioned around the circle. This tends either to freeze or agitate the other center. "When the home guy delays, you know the linesman will drop the puck quickly when that guy finally gets in, because he wants to get the game going," says Minnesota general manager Doug Risebrough, an NHL center for 13 seasons. "As the home center you're coming in with motion. That'll win a lot of draws."
The Line Change
The NHL plays five-on-five hockey except a) when penalties intervene, b) in overtime and c) when Dallas is changing penalty killers on the fly. The Stars might be shorthanded, but at times it looks as if they have at least six skaters on the ice, mocking not only the five-foot rule—a player isn't permitted on the ice until a teammate coming out of the game is within five feet of the bench—but also the man advantage. "That's nothing more than a combination of alert, veteran players and good coaching," Lewis says. "Say we're coming out of our zone, and one of their penalty killers is chasing over the blue line. Maybe we beat that guy, but then he hustles toward the bench and another guy jumps on from the other end. You think you have a three-on-two developing, but that kills it. They're coming in one door and going out the other."
One final story: During the 1999 Western Conference finals, Colorado was greeted in the visitors' dressing room at Joe Louis Arena by the pungent smell of fresh paint. Although Detroit management insisted the ill-timed paint job (not to mention the accompanying noxious fumes) was part of routine building maintenance, Avalanche suspicions about the spring cleaning settled on Red Wings master artist and coach Scotty Bowman. So don't despair, all you jersey-tuggers, stick-switchers, face-off swindlers and heart-attack fakers. Even in this seemingly dim age, the black arts come in a rainbow of Sherwin-Williams colors.