Fraser: How to defuse situations with profane coaches

Kerry Fraser
5/27/2013 1:58:05 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

Hey Kerry,

I have a question on a video I watched not too long ago and thought maybe you can give some clarification and or give us some stories like always.

So the video I saw was NYR vs BOS, during a timeout CNBC had a mic near NYR bench. Obviously Torts was unhappy (as always) and you can see him yelling at an official. However during the video you can clearly hear the official tell Torts "that's enough" then proceeded to swear at the coach.

My question is, are the officials allowed to swear at the coaches? I was always under the impression that referees were supposed to be held at a higher standard than every other person on the ice. Seems odd that a ref would go as far as swearing at a coach who is already clearly heated in that type of situation. I understand the fact that everyone has their boiling points, and this official was getting tired of hearing Torts yelling at him. However isn't is the ref's job to try and defuse situations rather than add fuel to the fire?

Thanks again, love the articles

Kory C



There is a video circulating of a linesman yelling "Eff you" at John Tortorella. Judging by public image of the Rangers' coach, he probably deserved it. On several occasions, you can read lips of the officials and phrases like "shut the eff up" seem to be pretty common. I'm sure some guys do it more than others but I'm wondering how common and accepted it really is for officials to swear at players and coaches?

Thank you,


Kory and Eugene,

It is inappropriate for a referee or linesman to curse at a coach or player at any time! In the heat of the battle (and as emotions escalate), it is imperative that officials fight the human instinct to engage their perceived adversary. Instead, their objective should always be to defuse the situation by becoming part of the solution instead of part of the problem! The best way to do that is for the official to remain in control of his own emotions. That being said, have I ever slipped up and cursed at a player or coach? Absolutely! After all, there are times when we just can't fight off our human instincts.

I must say, I learned very early in my career that to defuse hostile situations, I needed to remain as emotionally neutral as humanly possible. I also recognized that to be successful, I needed to develop positive relationships with players and coaches through appropriate forms of communication. From a state of calm, I attempted to exert control by creating a "win-win" situation wherever possible. I recognized that every player and coach had distinct and unique personalities and it was my job to figure out what worked best in dealing with them.

Body language and tone of voice are two elements that need to be kept in check as an official enters a debate/confrontation. The first time I came to understand there was a 'better way' in dealing with an out-of-control coach was when Bryan Murray was behind the Washington Capitals bench in the early 1980's. Bryan is an emotional guy and, at the time, led the league in bench penalties for his theatrics in protest of the officials' decisions.

During one game in the Cap Center, the coach was standing up on the dasher boards screaming wildly and waving his arms at me. I decided to try a different approach, since bench penalties didn't seem to be altering Bryan's unacceptable behavior pattern. I approached Murray with both of my hands up in front of me with palms open (a sign of peace as opposed to a finger point) and my monotone voice only loud enough so that I could be heard as opposed to screaming back at the out-of-control coach. I took control of the situation by stating to the coach that I would like to talk with him but in order for me to do so, he must calm down and to please get off the dasher boards. Bryan immediately complied to my polite request as his emotional pitch conformed more toward the one that I had presented to him. At this point, I started the conversation by saying, "You might not agree with what I have to tell you but let me explain the reason for my decision on the play."

I quickly and calmly communicated with the coach what I saw on the play. Murray listened intently and then paused for a brief moment as he chose his words to respond. Bryan said, "Well you're right about one thing, Kerry, I don't agree with what you just said but thanks for coming over and explaining it to me!" In Bryan's post-game interviews, he said the dialogue that he and I had was the first time that a referee ever approached him at the bench to provide an explanation and he really appreciated it. That incident taught me a huge lesson in relationship building.

I also found that it was important for me to think of what I was going to say and actually hear myself before opening my mouth. When my emotions would start to rise and my voice got louder, I would take a breath in an attempt to return to centre or neutral. I can recall stopping in mid-sentence during a heated debate with a player and saying, "I'm sorry I just said that; let me rephrase, what I meant to say was..."

I learned the hard way it was much better to adopt the philosophy as a referee to "treat disrespect with respect" than to engage in or attempt to win an "Eff you" contest. I attempted to set acceptable and achievable limits for game participants similar to those I set for myself.

Lastly, I tried not to take myself too seriously and to find humor in situations wherever possible. I learned that valuable quality early in my career as well when a team was getting their butts kicked at home and became extremely frustrated; especially with me. My response at the time, to their disrespect, was to assess misconduct penalties and as the score mounted near the end of the game, I had four players from the home team in the penalty box with 10's! The coach had enough of me as well and wanted to get thrown out of the game.

He sent his captain over to me at the stoppage who very politely relayed a message for me. The captain said, "My coach wants to know if he can get a penalty for 'thinking'?" Somewhat confused by the question, I responded by saying, "I guess not as long as he doesn't think out loud!" The captain then said, "In that case, he wanted me to tell you he thinks you're an 'Effing A#$%^&*!"

I started to laugh, finding the humor in the statement. The coach, who was waiting for a battle response from me that never came, started to grin and then laugh as well. The game ended without further incident and a positive relationship blossomed with the coach.

Sometimes you just have to find the humor in the situation, Torts!

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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