Fraser: About players and the remarks they make

Kerry Fraser
1/4/2012 3:58:58 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!

Hi Kerry,
First of all, Happy New Year and I wish you all the best for 2012. I hope you will have an awesome year.
It's been reported that Krys Barch of the Florida Panthers got a game misconduct because a linesman apparently overheard Barch using a racial slur against PK Subban. If this is true, then this is the first time I can ever remember a referee or a linesman giving a penalty to a player for such alleged conduct.
With that said, I want to know - Did you ever give penalties to players because they said something that was as bad?
Jason Bouchard
Toronto, Ontario
Jason: Happy New Year to one and all! I thank you for providing this very important first question of 2012 in hopes that tolerance and appropriate conduct is extended by each of us to all our brothers and sisters throughout this New Year. This makes for a long column, but a very important topic.

The investigation continues concerning Krys Barch's alleged comments that were overheard by a linesman and resulted in the assessment of a game misconduct. This is not the first time that a linesman reported such an incident.

Shane Doan was accused of directing an anti-French comment to the four-man Francophone officiating crew in a game and assessed a misconduct penalty which blew up into a major ordeal. I don't know of a better person or one more grounded in his Christian faith than Shane Doan throughout the NHL. I've seen him spitting mad in the moment and the very worst I ever heard him utter was the word, "frig". He was exonerated of all charges following an in-depth investigation by the League. 

In the name of tolerance, let's not rush to judgment to convict Krys Barch. If through a thorough investigation, the NHL finds Barch guilty of directing a racial slur at PK Subban, he will be appropriately reprimanded (as anyone should be) and a valuable lesson learned by all.

Political correctness in our ever changing world demands us to be sensitive to the feelings of others. The hard truth is that the intolerance and inequality well documented throughout history was never okay but certainly something to learn from. 

Even though there is no 'PC rule book,' we should all know what type of comments cross the line. Some years ago, 'racial taunts or slurs' were added to the NHL rule book under Game Misconduct, rule 23.7 (ii) to address these changing times. Respect and tolerance for the differences of others is something that we must uphold.

Taunting and trash talk continues to be utilized by some participants in all sports in an effort to gain an edge and veer an opponent off his game. I don't believe that will ever change. Some of the banter can be funny while others just plain inappropriate.  

Jason, I want to share some incidents committed by players and fans that I encountered during my career which I believe went below the line of being deemed acceptable.  In each case I will provide my response or non response to the incident. In publicized events I will use names; in private incidents I will leave it generic in nature.

Prior to the sensitivity issue players often taunted their opponents with trash talk that centred on sexual orientation.  'Queer' was the optimum buzz word.  Some might remember a Hockey Night In Canada hot microphone near the Philadelphia Flyers bench catch Bobby Clarke's displeasure with referee great, Bruce Hood when he shouted, "Hood, you ----ing queer." 

In a game I worked a scrum ensued after a whistle in front of a team bench. The tough guy/fighter was on the bench and had his face well covered with Vaseline to protect against potential cuts. He and an opponent on the ice, who happened to have a high-pitched famine type voice got into a verbal confrontation. The player on the ice said with a lisp, "Oh why don't you just go put some more Vaseline on your face," to which the tough guy immediately responded, "At least I don't stick up my _ _ _." Everyone laughed including the player with the wispy voice. The scrum dispersed and nobody was offended.

In another game prior to racial slurs being penalized a player of East Indian decent was involved in a scrum by the player's bench when the trash talking began. An opponent seated on the player's bench in a calm voice looked to his teammate seated beside him and asked, "Did someone call a cab?" The only one that didn't find it humorous was the player of East Indian decent.  I heard the comment and failed to respond.

In 1995, Claude Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP when he led the NJ Devils to the Stanley Cup in spite of going through a very public, nasty divorce. In a preliminary round Matthew Barnaby, the king of agitation and trash talk was all over Lemieux, trying to get him off his game.

Claude approached me at a stoppage in play with tears in his eyes and asked me to please tell Barnaby not to speak to him about his personal life. Claude told me that he was going through a terrible divorce and that Barnaby had made some extremely derogatory and obscene comments about his estranged wife. 

As far as I'm concerned a player's family is off limits. I immediately called Matthew Barnaby over insisted that he apologize to Claude Lemieux or I would throw him out of the game. Barney didn't believe I could or would do it until I firmly said, "Try me."

It took two Barnaby two attempts because I didn't think the first one offer to Lemieux was sincere enough. Claude accepted the second one and skated away leaving me to threaten Matthew Barnaby never to say those types of things again or he would get an early shower.

Fans can also wound players with insensitive words. Mark Fitzpatrick was playing goal for Florida Panthers in a game in Tampa just after a publicized incident where he was charged with aggravated domestic battery.  At the first commercial stoppage Mark was visibly shaken and pointed to a fan directly behind his goal that he said was taunting him by calling him a wife beater. 

The fan Mark singled out was a middle aged man dressed very professionally. His seat was positioned directly in front of a seam in the glass where his shouts could be easily heard on the ice. I approached the fan who confirmed the insensitive comments he had been directing at the Panthers goalie. I asked him please refrain from anything further of that nature or I would have him ejected from the building to which he agreed.

Prior to the start of the next period I took one of my signed hockey cards and passed it through the glass as an offering of cooperation to the fan. The gentleman was most apologetic for his conduct and said that he, of all people should be sensitive to the issue for Mark Fitzpatrick given the fact that in his professional life he operated a shelter for battered women. The emotion as a hockey fan caused him to lose control of his professional values and senses.

The very best example and lesson I can offer on the subject came from an incident on Dec. 20, 2000 in a game at Madison Square Garden between the NY Rangers and the St. Louis Blues which I wrote about in detail in The Final Call. 

A scrum ensued at the end of the first period between Theo Fleury (who had just completed the League imposed substance abuse program) and Tyson Nash, a second-year player with the Blues.

Theo approached me with tears in his eyes after Nash brought up Fleury's much publicized battle with alcohol and drugs. I approached Blues coach Joel Quenneville in the coach's room and we agreed to get his player to offer a sincere apology to Theo Fleury on the red line between the two benches prior to the start of the next period. Tyson was visibly shaken when he offered the apology which was accepted by Fleury. The two combatants shook hands, the game finished and I thought that was the end of it.

That is until I was writing my book ten years later and called Tyson Nash for his permission to chronicle the event. The telephone got quiet - Tyson said, "Kerry, that was a life-altering, career-changing incident for me." It was obvious to me that the apology I forced in 2000 had a profound effect on Tyson Nash even to this day.

Let me share with you in Tyson Nash's own words the positive impact the incident that night on Madison Square Garden ice had on him.

"When I first started playing hockey, I was actually pretty decent and had the ability to put the puck in the back of the net, but as I travelled on in my career I realized, and certain coaches helped me realize, if I was going to make the NHL…I needed to play a certain way. I, of course, didn't always agree with them...but I listened and am so thankful I did because of the career I ended up having...

Coach Quenneville gave me an opportunity and a role on a great team. When I first got called up to the NHL after four years in the minors, I knew this might be my only chance to show what I can do...I ran around and hit everything that moved and smiled and laughed the whole game through, and in many more after that, for I was living my dream and I was playing in the NHL…Coach Quenneville told me that I needed to be the most hated man in hockey and bring that smile and energy to every game and as long as I did that I would be a St. Louis Blue. The rest was history. From that day I would do whatever I had to do to stick in the league; I would hit anything and anyone...I would yell and chirp and do whatever I could to get the upper hand or draw penalties. After all, we had the best power play in the league, and in fact we had a stat sheet for penalties drawn—which, of course, I dominated. At least I could say I was good in one stat column.

I am pretty sure I was a ref's nightmare, always in the middle of everything, and it just escalated from there. It was a tough role [to assume] because it really wasn't who I was. I consider myself a pretty nice guy who, off the ice, hates controversy, but on the ice I had to do something totally opposite or I would be gone. I was given a job and I wanted to be great at it, no matter what or who stood in my way - until on a particular night.

Before a game against the Rangers, everyone talked and gossiped, and in the heat of the moment I said things that I typically never do and [got] personal. I was frustrated with Theo Fleury and in the heat of the moment I...attacked him as a person. Obviously, Theo was a very fiery guy and it didn't take much to get him, but instead of fire him up, I apparently struck a chord emotionally and he approached Kerry Fraser about it and, well, that was a huge wake-up call for me that certain things are offsides no matter how bad you want to win the game...

After that I never went after someone's personal life, and I have Fraser to thank for playing dad in this one."  - Tyson Nash.

I believe the insight and honesty of Tyson's candid self-analysis have great value. We are reminded that, while winning at all costs seems to be the accepted aim of our game, form the NHL to youth hockey, the cost might not be a simple two-minute penalty but something so damaging and injurious it cuts to the core of an opponent.

Players, fans, coaches, parents and officials at all levels of the game; let's incorporate the valuable lesson Tyson Nash learned at MSG as a New Year's resolution for all of us.  

Matthew Barnaby (Photo: Getty Images)


(Photo: Getty Images)
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