Fraser: Referees must work to keep sport safe at every level

Kerry Fraser
3/23/2012 6:41:01 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,

Firstly I just wanted to say I just completed your book. Bravo, excellent job. I could not put it down. I have a feeling you have enough stories in you to write ten books! I hope to get a chance to meet you one day to have it signed. As a fellow referee (albeit at a much lower level than you) I related to a lot of the situations you described in your book.
I had a quick question though regarding the calling of CFB's in the NHL. In minor hockey we are told to make this call on any player who intentionally pushes, body checks or hits an opposing player from behind, anywhere on the ice. If the player is injured a major and game misconduct should be called as well. I personally see tons of plays in the NHL that seem to fall under this label. It is my impression that there are going to be some very serious injuries to players (as they continue to get bigger and stronger) if this rule is not clamped down on. I was curious as to your thoughts?
Jason Hall

I am happy that you enjoyed The Final Call and yes there are many more stories to be shared from my 30-year NHL career. I look forward to signing your copy some day.

The medical community continues to update us with knowledge gained through their ongoing studies relative to head trauma injuries. This includes documented evidence on both the short and long-term effect of concussions.

Following my retirement from the ice the Mayo Clinic's Sports Medicine Center hosted a collaborative "Ice Hockey Summit: Action on Concussion" in Rochester, Minn. on October 19-20, 2010. The Summit was jointly sponsored by USA Hockey, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, The Hockey Equipment Certification Council and supported by Team Wendy and the Johannson-Gund endowment. The summit brought together top scientists, trainers, coaches, officials and manufacturers from across the United States and Canada to discuss concussion-related issues. These issues include the science of concussions, their impact, return to play guidelines, equipment manufacturing, rules and regulations such as body checking and the challenges of officiating and enforcement. Doctors representing specific NHL teams and the NHLPA made presentations on studies they had conducted as well. I was invited to make a presentation on enforcement of the rules which was titled, Role of the Referee in Concussion Prevention: Overcoming Bias, Intimidation, and Expectations.

One of the many medical facts I learned during the two-day Summit was that relatively speaking it takes considerably less force to produce concussion-like symptoms in a young adolescent who's skeletal/neuromuscular systems and brain are not yet fully developed compared to a mature adult.

As a result of this medical fact, the minor hockey league referee deals specifically with these young players that are most susceptible to concussions resulting from checks from behind and hits to the head. 

Amateur bodies such as USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and the individual branches that they govern have taken strong steps in an attempt to greatly reduce (with an eye to eliminating) injuries resulting from checks from behind and hits occurring to the neck and above. Lengthy suspensions have resulted at all levels but particularly in Major Junior leagues across North America. I applaud the efforts of these administrators.

Programs are already in place to correctly teach/coach youth hockey players checking philosophy (gain puck possession), how to deliver a legal body check (angles) and receive body contact at all levels of youth hockey; even at ages prior to checking being allowed.

Jason, you and your fellow officials have a tremendous responsibility to correctly identify these types of fouls and assess the appropriate penalties as you have been instructed by your superiors. When you correctly follow the guidelines as set forth and hear a coach or parent yell at you to "Let 'em play" don't be intimidated or veer off course. Know that you are serving both the participants and the game's best interest when you do your job, as tough as it can be. It will take a joint effort from you, your colleagues, the Amateur Hockey Administrations, players, parents and continued awareness presented by the medical community to alter the dangerous culture that we see at various times in our present game. There is much yet to be done.

The NHL is not off an island unto itself in attempts to alter the course of dangerous and devastating high hits that have the potential to end careers and alter future quality of a player's life. They in fact are the most visible league in the world and as such can make the biggest difference. The NHL is moving forward and making progress; too slow for some - too much progress for others!

I am confident Jason that the NHL will stay the course and eventually alter the mindset of those players that dare commit hits that are deemed dangerous and designed to injure an opponent. No differently than at your level it will take a concerted effort from everyone involved and not just the League. The NHL has often been an easy target for a lack of appropriate response to problems that have plagued player safety issues; some deserved and some not. I offer this for your consideration and in support of a League effort being made to stop the blood let.

Since Brendan Shanahan has taken over League discipline, he and his Player Protection Committee have levied several suspensions in dealing with dangerous hits and head contact. We can argue as to whether they are consistently applied or severe enough but the fact remains that suspensions have been handed out this season more consistently and in larger numbers. While it must be maintained the yoke should not entirely rest on their shoulders.

The NHLPA has a shared responsibility in convincing and altering the culture of hitting that the players themselves have created. I would suggest that educating the membership before they commit these dangerous acts and have to sit before Shanahan and his committee would serve their best interest. The mutual respect among players that has been greatly diminished (or in some cases lost altogether) needs to be restored even when the game is played at its toughest form. It makes more sense to me to invest some energy, time and money to develop internal programs that work before players forfeit large amounts of salary through suspension or careers are ended prematurely.

Better player decisions can also be enhanced through individual team coaching. Certain players have developed habits that need to be massaged and in some cases broken. Look at the turnaround that Matt Cooke has made. I see it from where I sit. The daily footage that is broken down by the team video coordinator could highlight player tendencies that might place him in jeopardy of suspension. Losing a player to suspension can have a huge impact on a team.

Finally it is going to take better on-ice enforcement to identify and penalize major infractions to support what is being done by the Player Safety Committee. These combined efforts help players make better decisions on the ice in the moment. It is not acceptable to assess a minor penalty when a multiple game suspension results. An ejection from the game and a five-minute disadvantage to an offending player's team will get the attention of everyone and acts as a deterrent for players around the League.

Jason, even though the players are bigger and stronger in the NHL the responsibility to keep the game safe is shared at all levels to avoid the potential for very serious injuries no matter how developed their skeletal/neuromuscular and brain is. I wish you much success as you and your colleagues keep up your end of this important initiative. Prepare the next generation of players to play the game the way it was intended.

For a personally autographed copy of Final Call from TSN hockey analyst and former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, visit The Book Keeper website.

For a regular copy of Final Call from TSN hockey analyst and former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, visit here.

Dave Jackson and Jean Morin (Photo: Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)
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