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After what happened in Game 3 (with hit, the jawing and taunting after the whistles and all the players being tossed near the end), how would you approach the players and coaches before Game 4?
Gregg Ellis, Halifax
This series has certainly heated up. Historically, I found that the Cup Final usually does as either the series protracts or when some incident might occur that creates bad blood.
It only took two periods into the series for Alexandre Burrows to leave his teeth marks as an imprint on what would follow. In Game 2, Maxim Lapierre's finger taunting infuriated the Bruins as much, if not more, than the lack of a suspension to Burrows or for his tremendous three-point performance that stole the game for the Canucks. Down two games to none, the "B's" returned home like angry hunters loaded for bear.
Early in Game 3 they watched in sickening horror as their popular teammate Nathan Horton was immobilized, placed on a back board and carted off to Mass General after suffering the consequences of a devastating late, high hit from Aaron Rome. The crushing check would ultimately end the season for both players but not before the Bruins extracted their own measure of revenge; first on the scoreboard and then through their own taunting and the physical punishment they administered.
Every game has a unique heartbeat. It changes with the pace and what the game presents. There are times when hostilities escalate and the referees have to know when and how to appropriately slow the pulse of the game without it going into cardiac arrest.
Gregg, I'll tell you how I would approach Game 4 but first let me share with you what I would have done in Game 3. Everyone knew going into the last game that Lapierre's finger pointing threw gasoline on the fire. Claude Julien made his feelings known on the subject and said that his players would not participate in classless acts such as this.
As a referee going into that game, you know where the hot spots (and hot buttons) are. The appropriate penalty was assessed to Aaron Rome but that hit would only intensify the animosity between the two teams and the potential for retribution. The score of the game can often dictate if and when a team might blow a gasket and decide it's time to pay back a debt owed.
Prior to that happening there were a few times that we saw Boston players stick their gloves and fingers in the pursed lips of Burrows and Lapierre without getting so much as nibble. Given the history of what had taken place in the previous games I would have immediately approached both coaches after the very first time a taunt of this nature occurred and laid down the law. Vigneault and Julien would have been advised that the very next player from either team (regardless of who he was) that stuck his finger in the face of an opponent would receive a 10-minute misconduct for inciting. I would tell them we wouldn't drop the puck until they informed all their players (including the ones on the ice at that time) of the consequences of this unacceptable taunt just to be sure the message was delivered. I am positive both coaches would have taken control of this situation immediately and it would not have continued to become part of a sideshow as it did.
There are times when drastic situations call for drastic measures. There certainly were occasions that I removed a player from the game that was only going to cause us grief based on the score of the game and the time remaining. With about 12 minutes in Game 3 remaining, Shawn Thornton was sent to the showers in a game management decision by the referee.
At the time I didn't think it wise to send this Boston policeman to the showers. Hostilities actually increased once Thornton was gone and the fear of the 500-pound gorilla being let out of his cage no longer existed. Shawn knows his role but is also an honourable guy that will work with the officials. Once again it's about feeling the pulse of the game and keeping the temperature around 98.7. Shawn Thornton would have been an asset that I would have utilized to the advantage of the game and solicited his cooperation if possible. In the end he might have gotten to the shower first but not with 12 minutes remaining.
For Game 4 Hockey Ops has already taken control. The series suspension to Aaron Rome should be a huge deterrent to every player to control their methods of hitting, with an eye to the consequence of their actions. Both teams have been served notice that the circus atmosphere will no longer be tolerated. (In post game interviews Claude Julien said he would not tolerate it from his players and Milan Lucic confirmed the scolding he received from his coach.) The finger pointing should, therefore, be a dead issue. If it does become a hangnail it must be clipped by the referees immediately as I suggested above. I believe both teams have already been advised that a penalty will result for any of this type of behavior without warning by the referee. If they haven't they would hear it from me early; maybe even before I dropped the puck.
The puck should now rest firmly on the sticks of the players. I would trust that both coaches prepared their respective teams to compete hard and not to veer from the game plan to seek retribution or put their teammates at a disadvantage. That is how I believe the game will be approached by both teams.
The two referees need to enter the game in a state of emotional calm but with a readiness to bring the temperature down and slow the pulse only when the game calls for that to be done. They need to drop the puck and turn the game over to the players and then react to what is presented.
This has been a hard-hitting series. I would not take that away from the players. The stupid stuff after the whistle and scrums would not be tolerated and be taken care of immediately with one penalty being assessed wherever possible. The officials' best friend is a moving puck so I would attempt to keep the play moving whenever possible.
If the referees enter the game too tight and caught up in the hype of what might happen they could very easily overreact on the first couple of calls in the game. All that would accomplish would be to destroy the heartbeat of the game. I don't believe that will happen. I believe the crew will be well prepared for the challenge and in the end it will be the players themselves that dictate how the officials will respond. The best case scenario for them is to drop the puck and tell the players to bring it back when they are done. "Just play boys and we'll stay out of your way."
The circus should be over.