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It's an "Ace" of a day here in South New Jersey and I'm in a very happy mood. I recorded my first ever hole-in–one this morning on the par 3, 135 yard fourth hole at the Atlantic City Country Club with an eight iron into a stiff wind and drizzle off the Bay. As they say, even a blind squirrel (or ref) can find a nut once in a while! Enjoy the games tonight.
In seemingly all of his games since the playoffs have started, Brad Marchand has had a talking to by the referee for stick work after the whistle. The commentators keep referring to Marchand getting "a warning." But if this is happening every game, shouldn't these warnings turn into penalties at some point? Does the league allow or encourage officials to pass this type of information on from one game to the next?
NHL officials do share information with one another. The fastest lines of communication are the telephone, telegraph and tell a ref! The series supervisor updates each new crew at a game-day noon meeting as to what has taken place in previous games. There are no surprises; especially when it comes to certain 'hotspots' the officials need to be aware of involving players from both teams. The referees want to do their very best to allow the players to play on the edge while maintaining an element of control; especially in a game seven.
With regard to game control, the intelligent official will communicate with players and coaches when he deems it necessary to bring their negative emotions down a notch. I often noticed that player aggression could escalate during a shift or subsequent shifts. It was almost like a snowball rolling down a hill that gathered momentum. It was almost predictable as a player became less disciplined and likely to commit an infraction resulting in a penalty call. I'm not referring to some spontaneous retaliation or foul but a tendency that players demonstrated to lose their discipline through a series of ragged play. Scrums and confrontations after the whistle are the most opportune time for player hostilities and paybacks to escalate. Scrums take the focus away from playing the game to instead administering punishment or getting even. When that occurs the refs have to take measures to get players refocused; usually with the fear that a penalty will be called to re-establish acceptable guidelines. The most successful refs are the one that get the players to play on their terms without having to continually lay the hammer down! The entertainment value of the game is maximized whenever that takes place. There comes a point though when the communication efforts have no effect and the ref's arm must go up to call a penalty.
I just don't want to single out Brad Marchand of the Bruins. Brendan Gallagher of the Habs is another 'pesky' little guy that can really stir things up. Both are emotional players that bring plenty of energy to their game and can draw a crowd. Whether it is going hard to the net and making contact with the goalkeeper or initiating contact after the whistle in an effort to draw a foul, both players have earned the right to be on the refs radar screen. Officials develop a working relationship with all players. Throughout that relationship building process a player has to clearly know when a referee means business; when he has had enough and the hammer is about to fall! Speaking from personal experience, players didn't often mistake my piercing look and terse body language or tone for knowing when it was time to back off and take their foot off the gas pedal. When I issued a "warning" to a player I often told him I could be his best advocate or his worst 'friggin' nightmare - the choice was his? A referee can also solicit the assistance of a respected team leader or captain that he has a good relationship with to get his teammate under control before the ref is forced to take action. I often used the coach in this capacity to instill some discipline in one of his players. When I had enough of the scrums (which was very quickly) I went to each coach and told them I had enough and was going to penalize one player only in a scrum. Since it might just be their player I asked them to take control before I was forced to put his team down a man! They usually cooperated; if not it only took one such penalty for them to understand I meant business.
What the referees are attempting to do with a player like Brad Marchand is to establish some self-discipline through an element of reason. Reminding the player that taking a penalty will put his team in the hole can be one way to do that as I have described above. It is important for the ref to choose his words wisely and not "threaten" the player with, "If you do that one more time" routine. Game 7 is not the time for any player to test the referees resolve; nor is it the time for the referees to lay the hammer down without some fair warning. I think the message has been delivered and the 'pests' will play their typical game but just on the edge. Talk is often cheap but everything is on the line for both teams tonight!