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Fraser: The players that had me watching in awe

TSN.ca Staff
12/6/2011 8:36:57 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 cmonref@tsn.ca!

Kerry,
 
I've heard young players who took a shift with a superstar (Gretzky, Lemieux) say afterwards that they were so in awe that they were watching instead of playing. Ever see something a player did and momentarily forget what your job was?
 
Chris Balthis
Columbus, OH
 
Chris: Thank you for your question; one that allows me to reflect on all the great players and jaw dropping, heart stopping plays that I witnessed from close proximity during my 30-year NHL career.

Just think of all the great players that I had the honour of skating with on their ice from 1980 to 2010. Fifty-five players I skated with from that period have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with 31 in the Builders Category (including coaches) and eight referees or linesmen that I worked with and/or for, have entered the Hall for their outstanding achievements within the game.

I was a hockey fan long before I ever became a referee. To this day, I remain a fan of our great game (My wife will also tell you that I have never stopped being a referee around the house or with our children and grandchildren. I'm working on it, however).

I can identify with the impressionable rookie you described, Chris, that was in awe or mesmerized by taking a shift with their legendary heroes such as Gretzky, Lemieux, Lafleur, Messier, Bourque, Yzerman, Clarke, Savard (both of them), Bure and so many more that I am unable to list here. Let's not forget the new generation of Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, soon to be followed by a whole cast of superstars in the making and not just in the city of Edmonton alone!
 
The rookie in me never left me when I witnessed exceptional plays. In moments like that the hockey fan in me surfaced and I became just like you; albeit with one major exception.

I was always a referee first! I had to multi-task.

There were times when my jaw dropped at witnessing an incredible play from fifteen feet away. I can even recall saying out loud, "Oh my God, I don't believe he just did that!"

That is the beauty of our great game. Each of us can recall the special moments that the game has provided for us from our childhood until the next one grabs hold of our heart strings and lifts us out of our chairs in the living room or seats in an NHL building.

Each one of us has different heroes; sometimes they can result from our different perspective or role within the game. Big, tough guy Jim McKenzie who played 15 seasons in the NHL with nine different teams, and won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils, told me of an unlikely encounter he had the first time he met one of his heroes in an NHL game.

McKenzie was mesmerized by one of his heroes as he passed through the hall toward his dressing room when he saw Chris 'Knuckles' Nilan at the tool bench sharpening up one his sticks. So taken at seeing his hero, all McKenzie could do was stop and stare in wide-eyed amazement.

Nilan's response of, "What the eff are you staring at you big goof?" caused Jim considerable embarrassment since all of his Harford Whaler teammates were walking alongside.

Jim said that his teammates didn't want to talk with him before the game or even sit near him knowing the dire consequences of a riled up Chris Nilan that night. They had yet to see McKenzie drop his gloves and they feared this could lead to either a trip to the infirmary or quick ticket to the minors for their rookie teammate. They didn't want to get too close.

Jim said he was so angry and humiliated it only took one shift for the Whaler players to get their answer. The very first shift that he and Nilan played against one another McKenzie went right after his 'former' hero like a buzzsaw and absolutely destroyed Knuckles in the fight. While Chris Nilan might have a different version, there was no holding back from the rookie this night when lining up beside his hero. Jim McKenzie didn't forget his job.

The last Panthers game I worked in Florida, the Montreal Canadiens were the guests. My little nine-year-old grandson Harrison was with me at the game. Carey Price was truly outstanding in posting the shutout win.

Alex Kovalev scored one of his many highlight-reel goals that were show-stoppers from a player who had hands like a surgeon. It was one if those times that I said aloud, "I don't believe he just did that."

Prior to the faceoff at centre ice I approached Alex and gave him what I thought was the greatest compliment I could think of by saying, "Alex, if I ever have open heart surgery I want the knife to be in your hands."

He just grinned a wide grin and said, "Some nights, maybe not!"

When the final horn sounded the sea of Habs jerseys in the Sunrise Arena erupted with chants of "Carey, Carey." And little Harrison was ushered into our dressing room and took a seat beside me. He said, "Papa, when the game ended did you hear them chanting your name - Kerry, Kerry!"  I smiled, rubbed his head and said, "Harrison, the fans do that in every rink I work in." That's how heroes, memories (and legends) are made.

We all have so many great memories acquired from so many great players. Don't ever forget each and every one of them. Check out the chapter entitled "Centre of The Hockey Universe: Toronto Maple Leafs" in my book, The Final Call to feel a rookie referee's excitement about stepping on Maple Leaf Gardens ice for the first time. The Montreal Canadiens were the guests on that Saturday night. It was too long to share here but just one more special memory I will never forget. Thanks for reminding us all, Chris.

----

Now I do need to clarify my position relative to a fair comment posted in yesterday's column from ampinoy13 (below):

The fact that your opinion differs from the on-ice officials brings up the reason we MUST have a Shanahan around to mete out justice: the on-ice officials had to rule, bang, right now in real time. You, Kerry, have the advantage Shanahan has. You can run the play back and forth in slow motion. I only wonder if your penalty awards are based on the first 'real time' review of the plays or the 'Shanahan' method of post-play.

I demand three basic things of myself in writing this column for you. They are 'Honesty, Fairness and Opinion.'  My honest opinion was reported yesterday on the penalty assessment of three situations that I did not agree with based on my experience and judgment gained from making millions of these types of decisions throughout my career.  I made mistakes; plenty of them. I'm do not profess to be right all the time, but like the officials on the ice I am confident in stating that we are right most of the time!

I take no personal pleasure in providing an opposing view or judgment from one that my former colleagues made in real time. The opposite is actually true as I feel bad for them when I believe errors have been made.

To your point, I watch the game and each play that I am asked by you (the reader) to comment on through a referee's eyes. My opinion is most often formed in real time unless the camera angle that you and I are provided doesn't offer a good look. I don't as you have stated, "run the play back and forth in slow motion." (As a matter of fact, my NHL Gamecenter Live doesn't even have that capability and unlike many of you I don't have a 'PVR.' I trust you visit this blog to gain my opinion - whether you agree or not. I will continue to be opinionated in an honest and fair manner.

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 cmonref@tsn.ca!


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

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