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Fraser: How to deal with comments from coaches and GMs

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Kerry Fraser
5/26/2011 6:16:44 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!

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Kerry,

Guy Boucher turned some heads with his statement about referee Eric Furlatt, eh? I know you try your best to be as professional as possible and call it down the line each night, but how tough is it to ref a game when a head coach makes public comments like Boucher did? Did this kind of thing ever happen to you?

Geoff Thorn - Victoria, BC

Geoff:

The #1 rated cable television news show is the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. Bill O'Reilly loudly professes that his "NO SPIN ZONE" is "fair & balanced". I personally like Mr. O'Reilly, but everything (not just in the political arena) has some sort of slant or purpose. Coaches' and general managers' comments during a playoff series are calculated and designed with a specific purpose in mind. They are clearly looking to gain an advantage even if their comments result in a fine from the NHL for speaking out against the officiating. (Anyone remember Canucks G.M., Mike Gillis' camera rant and mathematical equations after Game 6 of the Chicago series? Try and convince any Hawk fan that it didn't pay dividends.)

Just in case any of you missed Guy Boucher's response to a question asked of him the morning of Game 6 here is what he said:

"24-9 against, right? Yes, I'm aware of it. Very aware of it. Very, very aware of it. It has been a part of our discussions quite a few times in the last game, the last games we did have that particular ref. And it is lopsided. But the only thing we can control is what we do on the ice and hope that things will be fair like it is with everybody else.

"You want to ignore it, but you're right, after repetition, it is a concern. But we're planning on being strong mentally and forcing whoever is a ref to see that we're very disciplined."

First, let me say that I regret not having had the opportunity to work a game with Guy Boucher as a coach in the NHL.  I have watched him this season from the same vantage point as you have and I think he is absolutely brilliant.  I love the sports psychology application that Guy learned in the classroom and has adapted to suit his need in the practical application of the game and its participants.  While Mike "Doc" Emrick is the Doctor of Broadcasting, Guy Boucher is the current Doctor of Coaches. 

Prior to the day-of-game morning skate and arrival of players and coaches, press notes are prepared which include the team rosters and working game officials.  Coach Boucher would have known who was refereeing the game once he arrived that morning and before hitting the soft ball that was lobbed to him by a member of the media.  "Doc" Boucher hit that question over the Green Monster and right out of Fenway Park.

While comments like these don't affect the way a professional referee approaches a particular game, it is the perception that often becomes reality.  Every game is played differently; no two are exactly alike. The game is (and should be) officiated based on what is presented on each play throughout the game. Gamesmanship such as that displayed by Boucher plants a seed in the heads of everyone except the working officials.  Every penalty assessed in the game is then microscopically viewed through the perception created and not by whether it was or wasn't a strong call. It becomes more about mathematics.  (Not to be outdone, the losing coach Claude Julien has to step up to the plate knowing while he has homefield advantage, it has come down to the last out.  See both coaches post-game quotes as the games continue.)

The perception can also work in reverse if a public display has been made that caused an official undue embarrassment.  A "fear factor" associated with the potential of reprisal can sometimes cause the guilty party to backtrack and extend the olive branch.

I worked Game 6 of the 2001 Western Conference Semi-finals won by the L.A. Kings over the Colorado Avalanche in double overtime when Glen Murray scored the game's only goal.  The Staples Center has a large secured area inside the building where players, officials and team buses park.  Following the game, I walked out with the crew of officials and NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy into the underground parking area. Players and their families, along with media were milling around. Standing by the Avalanche team bus was G.M. Pierre Lacroix.  Always a fiery, emotional guy, he immediately put on show when he saw us (and me) approaching to get in our vehicle; one that he apparently later regretted.

In a loud voice, he continually shouted, "Where's your whistle, Kerry? Oh here it is under the bus (as he squatted down looking under the team bus). Oh now it isn't here, it is over here under this car. Nope, I can't find it either."  Lacroix was bouncing around like a jack-in-the-box while I stood staring daggers at him. Mike Murphy touched my arm and said to let it go and just get in the car.
 
I was seething and the look on my face was undeniable. Msr. Lacroix saw it as well, even through his less-than-entertaining dog and pony show.  Aside from being emotional, Pierre is also a very bright guy and good hockey man. He knew that it would not be the last time in that playoff year that I would see his team. Every dog has his day. 

Did he go too far in his public display to embarrass me? For sure.  He must have recognized the "perception" that he left wasn't a healthy one because when we got to Colorado, Mike Murphy got a telephone call from Lacroix first thing in the morning.  Pierre asked Murph to PLEASE offer his most sincere apology to me for the way he behaved and how badly he felt about it.

Pierre was right that I would see his team again during the next two playoff series that year.  As a matter of fact, I worked Game 7 in his building when they won the Stanley Cup and captain Joe Sakic paid Ray Bourque the ultimate honor of skating with the Cup first.

Pierre also had it right that "perception" can certainly become "reality".

The reality is that either the Bruins or the Lightning will travel to Vancouver to meet a very tough opponent for the Stanley Cup, with or without the sideshow. Or as Bill O'Reilly says "The Spin Stops Here!"
See both coaches post-game quotes below as they pertain to this question following Game 6 in Tampa.

Claude Julien: "Obviously it was a difference-maker. They scored three goals on the power play and it took us a long time to get our first one, and that certainly dictated the game. And what was more disappointing is probably the fact that, you know, I don't know if I agree with those calls. And hopefully what was said today didn't have any impact on that, because if it did, I'd be really disappointed. But when you look back at those and you get an opportunity to look back at them, that's really tough to swallow. And at the same time, you want your team to kill those penalties, which we've done a pretty good job throughout the series. But tonight that wasn't the case. And obviously it was the difference in the game."

Guy Boucher: "Well, first of all, I was asked that. I didn't bring it up myself. I was asked, and people put numbers in front of me. Those were the facts and the numbers. If you're asking me, power plays are 5-4 for them today, and they were 3-0 for them to start the game in the first period. It was 4-1 for them before we got our other power play, so I don't know, who had the advantage today? We had less power plays than them."

Guy Boucher (Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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