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Fraser: How do officials stay in play but out of the way?

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Kerry Fraser
5/24/2011 6:22:53 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,

My question involves an incident that occurred late in Game 5 between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Martin St. Louis was skating across the neutral zone towards Boston's end with the puck when the puck got tangled up with the linesman. St. Louis was clearly displeased with the linesman's unintentional interference, since it forced an offside and a neutral zone faceoff with just over a minute to go. What codes or guidelines do the officiating staff use regarding their proximity to the play? Do you have any stories of moments when you were "more involved" in the play than you intended, for better or worse?

Harold D'Adamo, Calgary

Harold:

Thank you for the question.

I watched the play along with you and the hockey world and felt badly for both Martin St. Louis and my friend, linesman Pierre Racicot. 

Let me first state that Racicot is an excellent linesman and a wonderful guy.  He is extremely conscientious and would have been as upset (if not, moreso) as St. Louis that the puck accidentally hit his skate, preventing it from entering the attacking zone cleanly. 

In a world where "supersizing" and "bigger is better" are more common than not, NHL officiating has followed suit with some giants of their own. The twin towers of linesmen Mike Cvik and Shane Heyer are 6'9" without skates. That's Chara territory.  'Civie' used to get his size 19 running shoes from the NY Knicks!  Both of my custom fit size 7 ¼ skates could glide inside just one of his with plenty of room to spare.  Turn those boats sideways and they take up some serious ice space.

Pierre Racicot is not far off the physical stature of these Eiffel Towers.  Not only are these guys big, they are athletic as well.

As Martin St. Louis approached the blue line, the puck took a bad hop off/over his stick directly into where linesman Pierre Racicot was correctly positioned to make the call at the blue line.  The redirection of the puck into the skate of the linesman prevented a clean entry into the attacking zone by St. Louis and the Lightning.

Surely in the momen,t Martin was quietly seething.  But he has seen Racicot over many, many games and he knows how competent and professional this linesman is.  The officials share a confined space with the players, and on occasion, become an unavoidable thread woven into the fabric of the play. 

On occasion I have seen linesmen bump into the zone beyond the blue line to make the call so that if the puck hit them it had already crossed the line.  In this case, with St. Louis about to receive the puck and cross the line close to the boards, had the linesman moved inside the zone, it would have likely caused congestion or even physical contact with St. Louis from that vantage point. 

Racicot did everything right in his set up to make the call at the blue line.  The offside resulted from a bad hop of the puck.   Had it happened at any other time of the game, this wouldn't even be a question.   Until the linemen sit in a chair off the playing surface as they do in a tennis match, contact with the puck and players will occur on very rare occasions.

My nemesis was also deflected pucks.  Whether a puck striking an official causes an offside or breaks up a play, coaches and players alike can react in peculiar ways.   In 1993, I was the referee (we only used one back then and had our names on our back) for an afternoon ESPN game in the Chicago Stadium between the Penguins and the Blackhawks.  Late in the game with the Hawks down by a goal and on the power play. A Hawks defenceman retrieved a clearing dump behind his goal and fired a hard pass to Tony Amonte along the sidewall to where I was standing five feet up ice from him.  At the last second, Amonte's intention of receiving the pass changed to angling his stick and deflecting the puck up ice to the far blue line where his friend Jeremy Roenick was waiting.  The puck took a quick rise off Tony's stick and I just missed blocking it with my elbow before it struck me directly in the face.  The puck broke my nose, fractured my tooth and split my lip for seven stitches.

 When I blew the whistle, blood sprayed out of the air hole.  Ron Francis of the Pens displayed a look of shock as he caught a glimpse of me.  I couldn't continue in this condition and Hawks athletic therapist Mike Gapski escorted me off the ice for repairs.  Walking through the Hawk bench, I paused and informed coach Darryl Sutter that we had to stop the game while I got stitched up.  Sutter shook his head in disgust and said "F%&*# Kerry, hurry up and get back. We're pressing."
 
After a quick stitch job, I returned to finish the game but had to blow the whistle out of the side of my mouth.  Coach Sutter wasn't pleased that his "press" had developed an unexpected wrinkle.

Then, there was one time that I was going to attempt to block a shot but decided better of it at the last second.  We were in the two-referee system and Sean O'Donnell was a member of the Boston Bruins.  I was wearing a new prototype chest protection device for referees that an equipment manufacturer from Strathroy, Ontario was developing.   He asked me to provide him with my feedback and assured me it provided wonderful protection from errant pucks and sticks.

The Bruins were on a power play and I was the lead referee on the play.  As O'Donnell stepped over the center red line on the players' bench side, he pounded a cross-ice slapper on a hard around so the goalie couldn't play the puck.  I was backing into the zone 15-20 feet deep on the penalty box side.  The angled slap shot was coming right toward my chest area and I had the conscious thought that this 90 mile-an-hour missile looked like a good one for me to try out the new foam chest protector.  As I squared to the oncoming puck and puffed my chest out, it became apparent to me that the puck was not only rising but coming faster and harder than I originally thought.  At the very last second I hit the deck as the puck whizzed past; just inches over my head.  It was a narrow miss for sure as I felt the breeze on my helmetless head.

The Bruins play-by-play announcer quickly shouted, "And down goes Fraser."  Gord Kluzak, former Bruin and color analyst in the broadcast booth, never skipped a beat to add, "And not a hair out of place."

Had I taken that one for the team, it would have been the only time I had intentionally tried to stop the puck.   Whenever I was accidentally struck by the puck, all I usually heard was, "C'mon Ref, get the hell out of the way."

Broken nose (Photo: TSN.ca)

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(Photo: TSN.ca)
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