Hawks Insider

Matt Meacham, Adam Gill form dynamic duo in Blackhawks' video room

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For the last two seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks have been near the bottom of seemingly every statistical category, which is no surprise, given where they're at in their rebuild. There's one area, however, where they've been among the NHL's best during that stretch.

Since Luke Richardson was hired as the head coach, the Blackhawks have won 13 of 15 challenges for a success rate of 86.7%, thanks in large part to head video coach Matt Meacham and assistant Adam Gill.

"I don't keep track," Meacham said when informed of that record before cracking a smile and quipping: "I know the losses that we had. I take the losses more than the [wins]."

Their only two losses this season were an offside challenge on Opening Night vs. Pittsburgh and an offside challenge on Nov. 16 vs. Tampa Bay that probably could've gone either way (the puck carrier — Brayden Point — preceded the puck over the line but the officials deemed he had possession).

In both of those instances, Richardson and the coaching staff decided to roll the dice themselves.

"I don’t know if they’ve missed one," Richardson said of Meacham and Gill. "I think I challenged one over them and I lost, so I go on their judgment, for sure."

Meacham has been with the Blackhawks since the 2013-14 season, and he has been one of the best in the business for a while. Gill joined the team last season after serving as the video coach for the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs for the previous eight years.

The two of them have their process down to a science.

During games, they're posted up in the coaches office watching out for any potential challengeable plays like a hawk. Gill is the first line of defense; his primary task is to closely monitor every single zone entry for both teams, whether it leads to a goal or not.

"Adam does a good job keeping an eye on that," Meacham said. "And if the puck goes in, we have a heads up to the bench saying: 'Hey, we're looking at this,' or if they haven't heard from us, then they kind of know that the entry is good and we'll be looking if there's any contact with the goalie."

Meacham will communicate to assistant coach Derek Plante through an earpiece if the Blackhawks or an opposing team is blatantly offside, even if the play is still going on in the offensive zone. The staff wants to know about it immediately.

"There are times on the power play where I just tell Planter: 'Hey, we're offside here,'" Meacham said. "It doesn't happen because hockey happens so fast but it would almost be the same in football like a free play, right? Defensively, if you know for sure that it's offside, well you could just fly a guy out into the neutral zone."

If a goal is scored and Meacham believes the Blackhawks have a case to challenge, he'll notify Plante. Meacham is careful with his language when doing so.

"Sometimes when you’re on that radio, it gets cut out and you only hear certain words," Meacham said. "So I won’t say ‘don’t challenge’ or ‘no challenge.’ If you hear ‘challenge,’ we’re challenging. I try to use verbiage where, even if they hear every third word, we know.

"I’ll say ‘don’t like it, this is possession, no goalie interference.’ They know it’s not a challenge unless they hear the word ‘challenge.’"

In the event of a radio equipment malfunction, Meacham and Gill will also put an overlay on the team's monitor that will read: "Good goal" or "offside" or "goalie interference." The screen is located by the coaching staff's feet, which is why you always see the staff look down after a goal is scored. It's an extra layer of protection.

The Blackhawks, fortunately, haven't had a notable breakdown in communication, but there was a mini scare a few years back when Jeremy Colliton was the head coach. Meacham wasn't sure if assistant coach Barry Smith had received their message about a challenge, and assistant video coach at the time Dylan Crawford was ready to run to the bench from the video room to relay the news.

Madison Square Garden isn't an ideal building for that, either, because of how difficult it is to get to the bench.

"The players have to go through the hallway out, so to get to the bench, you kind of have to go through fans," Meacham said. "Dylan drops everything and he’s willing to run to try to get to the bench before we challenged it. Barry ended up hearing it and we challenged it, but sometimes it’s nerve-wracking, because you want to make sure that you have the right call, that the call gets put in, and you don’t want to be the guy ... you’re not watching it live out there, nobody can see you, and you can change the game in an instant."

An offside is pretty cut and dry, for the most part. Meacham and Gill have a pretty strong handle on that.

What can be a little difficult to nail down is goaltender interference, which is subjective. That's where the Blackhawks will loop in goaltending coach Jimmy Waite, who's watching the game from the press box and has access to the radio channel.

Still, Meacham takes a lot of pride in studying games around the NHL, specifically plays that gets challenged because he needs to come up with a real-time opinion for the Blackhawks' coaching staff if it happens in their own game at some point.

"Sometimes it is gray, you know?" Meacham said. "You can watch one night where they don't call it goalie interference and then the next night it's almost the same exact play and it goes the opposite way, you know what I mean? So goalie interference, I don't know out of those 15 challenges, I think a lot of the ones this year have been offside I think.

"And even though they are close at times this year, you feel a little bit more calm, even though it's three, four, five minutes, like the delay the other day [in Washington] was long, then you're starting to second guess and you're looking like: 'Am I looking at it right?'"

No matter what, Meacham and Gill have access to seven permanent cameras in real time: four blue-line cameras, the two overheard views over each crease, and a full-rink camera. The rest, they rely on the raw home and road feed, in case either one is showing different angles.

What's particularly interesting is there are times where the replay angles being shown on television aren't clear-cut, and they have to try buying time because the league hasn't sent the ones that aren't immediately available to the TV truck yet.

"Sometimes we're telling the coaches: 'Hey, stall, say it's not working, say technical difficulties or I can't hear them or whatever,' trying to find that one extra feed," Meacham said.

Half-jokingly, I told them they're putting a lot of trust in our producers to get the proper replays up quickly.

"We joke all the time about, if we miss a faceoff or the TV truck misses the faceoff, we're like: 'What just happened?'" Meacham said. "Like if there's a faceoff goal, I don't even know how, until we get a replay sometimes, we don't know exactly who shot it, if it hit the goalie or whatever, you know what I mean? 

"So sometimes we're barking like: 'Ah!' They're showing somebody on the bench or something and all of a sudden play is happening and we're like: 'We have no idea.' And so it's a little frustrating for us, but that's what we have.

"When we record, we have two feeds. We have the TV feed and then we have an overheard coaches, so we do have the ability to, it's like a zoomed out version so you can see every guy on the ice, so you can't necessarily see if you have a high stick or something but you can at least watch the play that two or three seconds that we didn't get to see on the TV feed."

The role has evolved over the years for Meacham, who entered the league when the consequence of a lost challenge was losing a timeout. When Joel Quenneville was the head coach, sometimes it didn't matter whether the Blackhawks actually believed it would get overturned or not to challenge a play.

"The win-loss record wasn't really a thing, just because there were times where we needed a timeout anyway and it was a free challenge," Meacham said. "Even though there was no offside or something, Joel would be like: 'Well, we're challenging it, we're using it as a timeout and maybe it's just a 50-50 shot that it was goalie interference or something.'

"And so that's how it evolved from you lose your timeout to now the league's like you're going to get a penalty — delay of game — if you're going to sit there and challenge some random thing that's not even close."

Because the rules have changed, assessing teams a penalty for an unsuccessful challenge, that changes how risky the Blackhawks are willing to be. And to some degree, it depends on the opponent, too.

That could be impacted even more if the proposed rule change that came from the NHL GM's meetings this week regarding challenging incorrect minor penalties called against one of their players for high-sticking and puck out of play is approved. The discussed rule would up the ante, meaning if teams are wrong it would cost them an additional minor penalty, giving a 5-on-3 advantage for the opponent.

"Like Edmonton, if it's that close, do you challenge it knowing that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going on the power play?" Meacham said. "The first year that you got a penalty, it was the second week of the season — I think it was 2017 against Minny at home and it was an offside call, they went up 2-1, the call stood, we took a penalty, they scored on the power play so 3-1, and the game was done in the first period. If that's a goal and then they score on the power play, that's such a huge momentum swing that it's just, you want to make sure that you're right."

Offside and goaltender interference challenges are the main ones to look out for, but there is one other Meacham and Gill have to play close attention to, and that's a missed stoppage, whether it's the puck hitting the netting that went unnoticed, a hand pass, or a high stick that's touched by the same team and eventually leads to a goal.

"Really anytime the ref should’ve blown the whistle inside the offensive zone," Meacham said. "It has to happen inside the offensive zone."

It's a lot to keep an eye on in a fast sport like hockey. At one time, it was just Meacham doing the job. 

"When I first started, I was by myself for the first four or five years, and I remember in the playoffs, 2016 Game 2 against St. Louis, we lost Game 1, it was 1-1, Vladimir Tarasenko ended up scoring with seven minutes left in Game 2," Meacham recalled. "Jori Lehtera was offside, we challenged it, overturned. Shawzy scored four or five minutes later and we ended up winning 2-1. But that was when it was, you just lost your timeout."

Meacham is grateful to have an assistant like Gill after riding solo for a few years. And even though it's a serious responsibility, they like to have fun with each other on occasion, too.

"He’s good," Gill said of Meacham. "I’ll go back and look at things that I think are questionable, but he already knows."

"I won’t say anything," Meacham chimed in. "Sometimes I’ll just let him screw around. He’s like really looking at it, and then he’ll look at me and say, ‘You already knew that.’" 

"He’s probably the best," Gill concluded. "Seriously."

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