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Fraser: How best to avoid potential brawls at puck drop

Kerry Fraser
1/19/2014 2:33:37 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 cmonref@tsn.ca.

Hey Kerry, big fan of yours, just finished reading your book.

I think that we all saw the Canucks/Flames line brawl just after puck drop. It was obvious that something was about to happen, even to the referees because the fourth lines were on to start. My question is, is there anything that the refs could've done to prevent this from happening?

Secondly, Canucks coach John Tortorella confronted the Flames after the end of the second period. He was pretty wound up after the brawl and there were the two refs and a linesman beside him trying to calm him down. The confrontation would not have most likely happened if he received a penalty of some sort after the brawl. He was pretty worked up, and yelling at the Calgary bench, so why not penalize him for his actions or just toss him altogether?

Thanks

Patrick

Patrick,

The referee is expected to execute his duties as a 'reactionary' arbitrator. He must determine when a violation of the rules has been committed and then raise his arm to assess the appropriate penalty. There is nothing within the playing rules that prevents either coach from placing their fourth liners on the ice to start the game. As the visiting team, Flames coach Bob Hartley must provide his starting lineup to the Official Scorer first. This generally takes place following the pre-game warm-up.

As the home team coach, John Tortorella had the option to counter with a starting lineup selection of his choice. 'Torts' accepted the challenge from Hartley and chose to match "beef for beef"! Both coaches must accept the consequences of their players' actions, premeditated or otherwise.

All hands of the officiating crew were on deck as they observed the tell-tale signs as to what was about to occur the instant the puck was dropped. Players extended menacing looks, 'chatted' each other up as they assumed their positions, gloves shook on hands to make sure they came off quickly and Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa offered a word with Flames starting centre Kevin Westgarth before switching positions with Canucks starting center, 6'6' rookie Kellan Lain. Referee Dave Jackson was privy to all of this and delayed the puck drop after providing some instructions of his own.
 
At this point in the posturing that took place, I am going to step well outside of the expected referee protocol. I suspect many will disagree with the proactive intervention that I am about to suggest. (Know that I have utilized something similar when situations called for it). While many of you might have even enjoyed watching the line brawl that took place, I personally didn't like the 'staged' event that forced players to initiate and others to defend themselves as a result of coaching decisions and perhaps even instructions.

Prior to even thinking about dropping the puck, I would bring the other officials to centre ice for a conference and ask the linesmen to escort both starting lineups to their respective players' bench. I would speak to Bob Hartley first (with my ref partner) and read him the riot act. I would promise (not threaten) that if a brawl erupted, we would identify the instigators from either team and eject them from the game.
 
Additionally, I would offer the coach a moment, before we started the game, to instruct his players to exhibit restraint once I dropped the puck and to just play! If they did not comply with this request and a brawl resulted, I would hold the coach responsible and eject him from the game as well! The final thing I would do is allow the coach to make a change in his starting lineup if he wished.
 
The very same discussion would be held with John Tortorella at the Canucks bench and if Hartley made a change in his starting lineup, 'Torts' could counter the move. These are pretty drastic measures, for sure. Would I do it in the best interest of the game? You're damn right! If a line brawl erupted following the discussion with both coaches and their players, I would make good on my "promise". The battle lines would have been drawn before the puck drop.

Following the brawl, Tortorella understandably lost his mind on Hartley, perhaps forgetting that he also had a hand in placing a starting lineup on the ice. This would have been a perfect time to eject both coaches from the game in addition to the players that got an early shower.

Once the period ended, assuming the referees observed what took place in the hallway outside of the Calgary dressing room that was captured on camera, Tortorella should have been ejected from the game for his conduct. The officials would be required to submit a full report to the commissioner immediately following the game with regard to the line brawl and their account of the incident in the hallway.
 
Hefty fines and even suspensions should result from this ugly incident.

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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