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In most team sports, only 1 player is awarded an assist for a score. However in hockey up to two players are awarded with an assist per goal. What is the reasoning behind this?

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  • As far as I can tell, there's no rhyme or reason, just how it's always been. Can't say for certain though.
    – New-To-IT
    Apr 11 '17 at 16:47
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There is no clear reasoning behind this ruling. To base my answer, I have read the following article which talks a lot about the "second assist rule" and why it is believed to exist. The Second Assist: Statistic or Gift

Getting a second assist on a goal can be rewarding if you are not a typical playmaker. For example, you could take a defensive-minded player who racks up second assists by tipping pucks to the net and barely making nice passes. All that is from hard work and somewhat luck. In the other hand, you could take Nicklas Backstrom who racks up 60 assists per year on a consistent basis. Yes he does play with Ovechkin and they have an undeniable chemistry on ice, but we will both agree that he gets mostly "first assist" and not second assists.

To comeback to the difference between hockey and any other sports, I cannot really answer you with anything specific but say it's the rule and has been for years. Who decided it? I have no idea... But it does arise problems when you think about players who get a lot of first assists compared to players who get a lot of second assists. The total number of points in a season would remarkably be different.

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There are conflicting reports with respect to when officially recording assists began. Most sources say 1918-1919(1)(2), though assists were recorded before then as seen in Hockey Reference.

There were many NHL rule changes in the 1930's regarding the assist(3):

  • 1931-32 - "An assist may not be credited however to a player unless the act of assistance took place within the defending zone of the opposing team."
  • 1933-34 - "When a goal is scored an assist shall be credited to any player taking part in the play leading up to the scoring of the goal, provided that no player from the opposing side shall have touched the puck during the course of such play."
  • 1936-37 - Assists were limited to two per goal.
  • 1937-38 - "When a player scores a goal, an assist shall be credited to any player taking part in the play leading up to to the scoring of the goal provided that such play takes place only in the half of the rink nearest the goal scored on and provided no player on the opposing side shall have touched the puck during the course of such play. No more than two assists can be given on any one play."

In short, assists were played around with heavily during this period of time. Ultimately, it was decided that there could be no more than two assists per goal and they can only take place in the half nearest where the goal was scored, given no opposing player touches the puck during the play.

However, in 1945, the NHL changed their rules to only allow one assist per goal(4). Assists dropped for the 1945-1946 NHL season(5). Unfortunately, the rest of this thread enters the realm of speculation and no objective follow-up is made, but the potential reasons the one assist rule wasn't received well were because:

  • It affected the stats of top players.
  • Writers were complaining about players being denied assists.
  • There was importance toward whoever initiated the play that led to a goal, and removing the second assist may not recognize such.

Eventually, the one assist rule was lifted, and that is roughly evident through the increase of assists the following seasons.

*h/t to Canadiens1958 of HF Boards for doing the research on this matter.

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