Fraser: Looking back at bad blood and big rivalries

Kerry Fraser
5/17/2011 6:34:17 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at!


There's times when two rivalries have a down and dirty game and the bad blood could possibly spill over the next time they meet. If you're the referee for that game how do you approach the teams and coaches? Do you sit down with linesmen before the game to set a game plan or just go with the flow that the game will dictate? Any good examples of how this happened in your career?
Bernie in B.C.

Hey Bernie:

Too many rivalries and grudge matches to count over 30 years but let me you give you an example. 

In the 1980's and through the 90's such intense divisional rivalries existed that on any given night there was potential for brawls to erupt on the ice and/or in the stands. Geographical proximity usually resulted in natural rivalries developing between teams or, as you suggest, bad blood might have resulted from an initial incident. When Colorado's Claude Lemieux hit Kris Draper into the dasher board at the players' bench in Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Final, a Red Wing-Avalanche feud was established that persisted for several seasons.

Some of the most fierce rivalries existed between the NY Rangers-NY Islanders; Montreal-Quebec (remember the 1984 Good Friday Brawl?); Montreal-Boston; Boston-Philadelphia; (and of course anybody The Broad Street Bullies played against); Toronto-Detroit-Chicago-Minnesota-St. Louis all developed a hatred for one another as did their respective fan bases. The Battle of Alberta between the Oilers and the Flames during the 1980's wasn't fought over drilling rights but bragging rights in that Western Canadian province.

I recall a game I was assigned to between the Oilers and the Flames in the Calgary Saddledome. It was a rematch of sorts when I read the local newspaper the day of the game. It was reported that in the previous match between the two, a rookie Flames tough guy by the name of Stu Grimson beat heavyweight champion Dave Brown of the Oilers. Brown was not accustomed to being beaten in a fight, especially by a rookie in the league. Questions were even raised in the article asking if Brown had lost his enforcer status as a result of the loss. The rematch was "The Grim Reapers" third game in the NHL, I believe, and his last that season.

I was waiting for a faceoff in the Oilers end zone along with Grimson who was lined up at the top of the circle. Brown came onto the ice for the line change to take the first (and last) shift the two would play against one another that night. I saw fire coming out of 'Brownies' eyes as his steely gaze penetrated Grimson to his core. As soon as the puck went down Brown attacked Grimson with a ferocity I had never witnessed before. Brown absolutely destroyed his young opponent and broke his face in the process - including the orbital bone. Stu healed up from the injury after playing in three NHL games in his rookie season, picking up 17 minutes in penalties.

He moved on to Chicago the next season and enjoyed an excellent 15-year NHL career playing for seven different organizations.

Both Stu Grimson and Dave Brown are tremendous character people. I enjoyed interacting with each of them during their careers. They demonstrated tremendous heart, courage, and special skill sets that made their teammates better.

Dave Brown, now a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, and I caught up with one another a year ago at a Flyers game. I brought up the fight with Grimson from that night in Calgary that I was witness to. Brown said what a "tough kid" Grimson was and how much respect Brownie had for Stu; not only for coming back from that facial injury as a rookie but in the tremendous career that he had. I couldn't have agreed more with Brown. Both he and Grimson, now a lawyer and devout Christian, were not only warriors and former heavyweight champions but outstanding citizens in my opinion as well.

Update: Wednesday @ 11am et - Kerry-C'mon Ref back @ night_sky...

Thank you for reminding me that I really needed to address the specifics of Bernie's question more thoroughly! I know that in a previous question I wrote about being reassigned to a Leafs-Sens grudge match and touched on how Bill McCreary and I handled the game from the outset.

Relative to the newspaper article that I read the morning of the game in Calgary, I utilized the information as a pre-scouting report. This, along with other information I might gather from press notes at the arena prior to the game or through conversations with a referee or lineman that worked the previous game, are all used to prepare for what might (and probably will) occur in the game that night. There are times when each of us have had some event that occured in a game that we wanted to share with the next crew assigned to work the rematch. I have called and said, "Just want to give you guys a 'heads up and this is what happended in our game."  The officials share information that might help make things go more smoothly.  Forewarned is forearmed.

With the knowledge and information gathered, the other officials and I would discuss how we should approach the game dinamics and respond in an appropriate manner.  Were we going to attempt to stop a fight between Stu Grimson and Dave Brown that night? Absolutely not. It was an element of the game that was likely to unfold. There was anticipation in the stands (& around the office water coolers that day) of what was about to take place. Dave Brown must have felt that he had to settle a score and reestablish himself (& his reputation) with his teammates and opponents around the league.

What I would likely have said to the linesmen is that these are two really big guys. If they want to go lets allow them to get it out of their system and not jump in too quickly unless one guy is in peril or they hit the ice.  Don't put yourself at risk by jumping in a catching a bomb yourself. We need to allow the game to unfold and whatever form it takes we need to be ready to adjust and not be caught off guard.
Each of us were going to be aware whenever Grimson and Brown took the ice together.

The fight took place on the very first shift that the two combatants were on the ice together. It became a single incident that occured in that game.  As a result of the outcome nothing further developed..  Stu Grimson was eliminated from a rematch that night through the seriousness of the injuries he sustained in the fight. He lived to fight another day, and Dave Brown heaped praise of respect on Stu in the conversation I had with him a year ago. The battle that night was certainly premeditated and Stu Grimson had to know that he would called upon to respond when the bell rang that night. He was overpowered by a highly motivated, determined opponent in Dave Brown that night.  I recall when it ended there was an erie hush that seemed to enter the Saddledome and the game. To my recollection it ended without any further incident.

In the end many witnessed something they anticipated and perhaps came for.  That is with the exception of young Stu Grimson. As we know, he survived to fight many, many more times.

I hope this adequately answers your question Bernie and night_sky!


Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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