Calgary FlamesNHLScience/Statistics

High-stick? Scientific Analysis of Nate Thompson’s “Goal”


The Flames let a 4-1 lead slip away last night which ultimately resulted in an overtime loss and left their season in serious jeopardy. Reactions around the league are all over the spectrum: most Flames fans are screaming over a questionable goal that was under review for a high-stick, most Oilers fans are telling them to quit whining about it, and most Ducks fans are going about their Tuesday as usual (nobody in Anaheim cares about hockey. It’s a shame). 

Flames fans may have a point. At the time of that crucial Nate Thompson goal, it was approximately 12:30 AM EDT, meaning the crew at the NHL review center headquarters were literally burning the midnight oil. This article published by Forbes shows irrefutably that staying up too late kills brain cells, reduces productivity and focus, and can lead to Alzheimers and dementia. Perhaps, the high participation of west coast teams in the playoffs over the last few years has resulted in the death of a few too many brain cells. Memory loss doesn’t seem to be an issue though, because clearly nobody is forgetting this play.

While we join the group of fans who vehemently disagree with the NHL’s decision to uphold that iffy Thompson goal, it’s important to realize that jumping to the conclusion that the review guy in Toronto is to blame for the Flames’ season going up in smoke (lol) is a bit preemptive. Therefore, The Win Column team put together two detailed scientific analyses on that particular play in order to determine exactly what happened and prove which way the call should have gone.

Analysis 1

The first analysis begins with determining Thompson’s height when wearing skates. From the Anaheim Ducks website, his height is listed at 6’0”. From the figure below, and using proportional distances, it can be shown that Thompson’s total height, hT, is the sum of his actual height, hN, and the height of his skates, hS.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.09.34 AM.pngWith proportional distances:

hN = 17.3
hS = 0.72

Translating to real heights:

hN = 6’0”
hS = 3.0”

To keep a conservative estimation, hS will be taken as 2”. This gives a total height for Thompson as:

hT = 6’2”

Next, we must determine the height at which the puck makes contact with Thompson’s stick before deflecting into the Calgary net. The following 4 images were used in this determination, all taken from the official review video found on the league website.

It is a bit difficult to decipher exactly where the puck is while it’s flying through the air in several camera angles. Fortunately, we have the benefit of looking at Mikael Backlund‘s flailing right arm, and have synced all 4 images to this striking pose which coincides with Thompson making contact with the puck.

Using anthropometric data, Thompson’s height on skates matched that of a 95th percentile male based on several standard dimensions.

To keep his stick under the 48″ crossbar height, Thompson’s shoulders must drop 13.5″ from his shoulder height of 61.5″(C=156.4 cm). Via the Pythagorean Theorem, it can be concluded that his height drops by approximately 2″ from bending his legs, assuming his feet are 24″ apart.

Height lost from legs.jpeg

For Thompson’s stick to be at crossbar level, he must lower his height by 11.5″ from bending his back. An angular measurement shows that his back must be at an angle of 55˚ to achieve this reduction. However, from analyzing his position at the moment he makes contact with the puck, his back angle is at only 30.2˚.

Therefore, Thompson’s stick at the point of contact is approximately 9″ above the crossbar.

Analysis 2

Based on the combination of images, it can be safely assumed that Thompson’s stick is along the same vertical plane as his right skate. As this is the point of his body closest to the net, this provides a conservative estimation. By the laws of physics (yes, all of them), the net’s profile will shrink in all directions as the distance from the camera increases. This shrinkage was ignored to keep with a conservative estimation (mainly because we have final exams coming up), and it was assumed that the 48″ net height was consistent across the entire y-axis of the rink. By projecting the net profile to the plane where Thompson contacts the puck, we can determine whether there was a high-stick on the play by looking at his stick relative to the projected net profile. If his stick is inside or level with the profile, then there was no high-stick on the play, confirming the NHL’s decision.

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-18 at 12.41.57 PM.jpeg

Thompson’s stick clearly makes contact with the puck outside the projected net profile, thereby proving that there was a high-sticking infraction on the play. The NHL’s decision was incorrect and the goal should not have counted.


Well, there you have it, Flames fans. You were right. The Flames were once again robbed of a playoff win via video review, and will fight to stay alive tomorrow night in Game 4. Our fingers are crossed for a better outcome, but if the Ducks manage to win again, we can all find comfort in the fact that Dennis Wideman will finally be off the books.

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