Fraser: Lack of names on ref jerseys strips individuality

Kerry Fraser

6/6/2011 7:13:17 PM

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Hey Kerry!
There's something I've always wondered about - when a referee is on the phone at centre ice with a replay judge following a disputed goal (or non-goal) call, what is that conversation like? Does the replay judge simply tell the ref what he sees, and leaves it to the ref to make the appropriate call? Or does he describe what happens and suggest what the call should be?
Josh Bernier in Winnipeg

Hi Josh:
Welcome back into the NHL my friend. I hope that you were one of the lucky ones that got to purchase a season ticket in Winnipeg. Big shout out to all you Winnipeg fans from "C'mon Ref"...

Video replay was initiated to assist the referee in very specific situations to determine the validity of goals scored. It is an excellent tool and one that is welcomed by all referees with the objective to ultimately "get it right". Video review can be initiated by either the referee on the ice, a video replay official in the building, or in Toronto in the War Room.

When this process first began the only communication that took place was between the referee and the Video Goal Judge (or Officiating Supervisor) located in a secluded area (booth) in the upper area of the building. In the majority of cases the referee would initiate the call upstairs.

Once the referee took the phone at the timekeeper's bench he would advise the video goal judge why the play was being reviewed and what to look for. When the War Room / Situation Room in Toronto took control of all replays the video goal judge pretty much became a middle man in advising the referee of the decision that Toronto made.

Communicating details from the ice to whoever is conducting the review is a crucial component in speeding up the review process and in rendering a proper decision. When I dealt exclusively with the video goal judge, after advising him specifically what I wanted to look for, I would ask him to do a play-by-play account of what he was watching. On occasion the decision that was going to be rendered from the booth did not match the picture I was getting from the play-by-play. Through added dialogue the ultimate decision was rendered correctly.

With the Toronto office involved as the principle player from an offsite location, the communication headset at the penalty timekeepers bench now has three-way capability between the referee, Toronto and the on-site video goal judge. This is how I would initiate and direct the conversation from the ice:

"Kerry Fraser here in Vancouver. Who am I speaking to?"

"Mike Murphy here in Toronto"

"Hi Mike. I have the puck deflecting off the skate of Ryan Kesler past Tim Thomas and rule it a "good goal on the ice". My referee partner and one linesman also confirm it as a good goal from their perspective. The back linesman had an obstructed view and unable to see the play.

What I would like you to confirm is if the puck deflected off Kesler's skate, as I have it, or it there was any distinct kicking motion that replay can determine?"

Mike would usually follow with something to the effect that we are looking at it right now and he would probably verbalize or describe the action that he was watching. In the end he would render his decision on the play. Once it is turned over to Toronto they make the final decision on the play, unless it comes back "inconclusive" from the replays they have, in which case the referee's decision on the ice would stand.

Honest mistakes can be made on the ice and from the video replay review. Given the opportunity to look at a play from all available camera angles in hi-definition, slow motion and freeze frame, I think an error in judgment on a video review should be next to never.

I maintain that the person that should be reviewing the play is the one that is asked to make the initial decision on the ice—the referee. It works great in the NFL and I believe logistics could be worked out to provide a monitor and safe environment for the referee to look at the play and render a final decision. Some replays have taken as long as nine or more minutes to render a decision (or even come back inconclusive). Through this process reviewed decisions have been publicly challenged by teams, fans and even questioned by the officials who are left scratching their helmets in disbelief on some calls. Give it back to the referee on ice - let the guys in stripes make The Final Call. They will live and die with the call - that's what they are paid to do.

Hi Kerry,
My question is - and I have always wanted to know this - do referees have favourite teams they follow? How difficult was it refereeing your favourite hockey team when you were starting out?
Hamilton, Ontario

Hey Colin:
Are you rooting for the Boston Bruins by any chance?

Growing up in Sarnia, Ontario, I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs on T.V. every Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada with Foster Hewitt and then his son Bill providing the play-by-play. On the backyard rink I wanted to be called Frank Mahavolich but I chose Dave Keon or Ron Ellis due to my vertical challenge (Good choice - Keon and Ellis were darn good players).

Once I traded my hockey stick in for a whistle following my final season in 1972 as captain of the Sarnia Bees of the Southern Ontario Jr. A Hockey League, any cheering or loyalty I had for an NHL team vanished. Talk to fans in any of the 30 NHL cities and they will generally tell you that I was harder on their team than any other so I guess this demonstrates a referee's neutrality.

Starting out, I tried not to be in awe of all the new situations I was placed in. The first time I worked in an NHL building I would grab a coffee and sit in the seats and soak in all the history and tradition that building and NHL franchise had to offer. I wanted to get better at my chosen profession and become accepted in a game that I (like you) desperately love.

My first game in Maple Leaf Gardens was such a thrill even though it was just an exhibition game. The Montreal Canadiens were the guests on this Saturday night in late September. When I stepped onto the polished ice of this Shrine for the first time I didn't know if I should get down and kiss the ice in reverence or leave my skate guards on so my blades would not mark the surface.

I froze in mid-stride when I heard that unmistakable monotone voice of P.A. announcer Paul Morris and tried unsuccessfully to find the face that went with the voice I had heard from the time I was a small boy. I rounded the turn and looked directly into Harold Ballard's bunker to find him sitting there with King Clancy.

I desperately wanted to belong and as such looked for player acceptance. To accomplish this objective I tried to call players by their first name whenever I had the occasion to converse with them. All was going well with the Leafs up a goal late in the third period. Eventual Hall of Fame defenceman Guy Lapointe thought I missed a penalty against the Leafs with a couple of minutes to play and began to protest at the stoppage.

Continuing with my desire to call the players by their first name I attempted to calm him by placing two hands in front with palms open in a gesture of peace and said, "Relax SERGE!" Monsieur Lapointe shot me a look of disgust and said, "My name is GUY you @%*&# rookie!" The game ended and the Leafs won.

A few nights later I was in Montreal to visit the other Canadian Hockey Shrine; the Montreal Forum. Prior to the game I sent my skates to Canadiens' trainer Eddie Palchak for sharpening. I was all dressed and ready to go on the ice, minus my skates. Roger Doucet was about to sing the National Anthem so I sent the linesmen out ahead of me. Raymond, our dressing room attendant, rushed in at the last minute with my skates and apologized for them being returned so late. In my haste I jammed my feet in the skates and shaving cream flew out of both boots.

I quickly tied up my skates and stepped onto the ice just a second before Roger began his rendition. As I touched the ice my left skate went in one direction and the right one in another. There standing on the Canadien blue line with a big grin on his face was Guy Lapointe; right beside him was Serge Savard. After the National Anthem, Lapointe skated right over to me and with a big grin on his face said, "How are your skates tonight, rookie?" I replied "Perfect GUY -- just the way I like them."

Guy Lapointe was a much better player than he was a skate sharpener...


What's your favourite Stanley Cup Final memory from your career?

Fred Wong, Vancouver

I participated in a dozen Cup Finals and each one was unique. Let me share a couple of them if I may. I'll attempt to keep them short, which as you know by now is not an easy task for me.

My first Stanley Cup Final was in the 1984-85 season when the Oilers defeated the Flyers in five games. I worked Game 2 in Philadelphia with two eventual Hall of Fame linesmen in John D'Amico and Ray Scapinello. An Oiler 3-1 victory sent the series back to Edmonton split at a game each. The game went very well for me with the assistance of D'Amico and Scapinello.

I was scheduled to standby Game 4 and work Game 5 in Edmonton. On the morning of pivotal Game 4, Andy Van Hellemond took two turns around the Northlands Coliseum ice at the morning skate, pulled up lame and said he couldn't work that night. I was pressed into action.

Judging by the look on NHL Director of Officiating, John McCauley's face when Van Hellemond informed him he wouldn't work that night, John must have been somewhat nervous putting me into this huge game in the series. My first game went well but I'm sure he didn't want to press our luck.

Game 4 had everything a fan could want and a great one for us to work. Philadelphia was very aggressive and at one point Ronnie Sutter was killing a two-man disadvantage for the Flyers when he intercepted a loose puck and was fouled from behind on a breakaway. I assessed a penalty shot but Sutter's attempt failed. The Oilers won 5-3 with an open net goal, I believe.

I remained in Edmonton as the standby referee for Game 5. Edmonton won the Cup with a 8-3 victory that turned ugly at the end of that game. After the dust settled I was leaning against the wall near the dressing rooms when League President, John Ziegler was walking along with his entourage to present the Cup in the Hockey Night In Canada studio.

Mr. Ziegler saw me and made an abrupt diversion toward me. The President then shook my hand and said, "Kerry, I just want to thank you and tell you the game you worked the other night was the finest game that I have ever seen refereed."  I was humbled and honoured by Mr. Ziegler's kind words in this, my first Stanley Cup Finals.

Raymond Bourque finally won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 in seven games against the New Jersey Devils. I skated alone in the darkness at 8am in the Pepsi Center before the teams arrived for their morning skate. At that time, with the light out, it was the only place in the entire City of Denver that wasn't yet electrified in anticipation of Bourque's final chance at winning the Stanley Cup. The energized atmosphere at the game that night is one I will never forget.

The game went well from our perspective - we had no effect on the outcome. Standing on the ice after the presentation and watching the ever-classy Joe Sakic allow Bourque to skate the Cup around the ice first will be forever etched in my mind. I don't think there was a hockey fan anywhere that wasn't happy for Raymond Bourque; except maybe in New Jersey.

Prior to the Stanley Cup Final series the officials send their jerseys into the team trainer to have the Cup crest sewn onto their sweaters like the ones placed on the players jerseys. In 1991 my jersey was sent into Pittsburgh Penguins equipment manager Steve Latin to place the crest on it. When I got to the rink that night the jersey was sitting in my stall nicely folded with the crest sewn on the chest. I got dressed for the game and as I unfolded my sweater and was about to pull it over my head something on the back of the jersey caught my eye. In black marking pen was written, "To my good friend Kerry, All the Best, Troy Loney."

It was the only jersey I had so out I went with Troy Loney's expression of friendship autographed on my back in a Stanley Cup Final game. When he saw the sweater he had personalized, Loney turned white as the blood drained from his face.

Troy apologized profusely and said he thought I must have carried a second sweater with me. I said, "Nope, this is it. I guess I'll have to carry you on my back all night!"    

Hey Kerry,
Once upon a time, referees wore their names on their backs and the league decided not to do that anymore. Did it matter to you guys in the zebra stripes?
Cory Lesser
North York, Ontario

Hi Cory:
Would it bother you if Cory Lesser became #2 or some other arbitrary number? While having our names stripped off our backs wasn't the end of the world, the vast majority of the officials would prefer to have their names on their backs just like the players do; perhaps also including their number.

The 'name to number' change came in the season immediately following the NHL Officials Association labour strike in '94. The change was presented to us at training camp by Commissioner Bettman as the League's caring approach to reduce personal insult and criticism directed at the officials from game spectators. While 'vanilla' might be the flavor of choice, if reducing criticism was truly the intention (which none of us ever believed for a New York minute) then it didn't work.

It did provide anonymity for new officials (even from players) but it also stripped most of their individuality. You might think that is a good thing and that the officials shouldn't be recognized. Often, players would approach me and ask the name of one of the officials on the ice so that they could call them by name and attempt to develop a relationship with that individual.

The anonymity issue even worked when Bryan Murray was behind the bench coaching when I would hear his call out, "Oh linesman, lineman" when looking at the number on his back and not knowing his name.

The number thing never quite worked for me that way; even when I was forced to cover up my signature coif with a helmet. Recognition was not altered for me in just being a number. Many times when my more anonymous partner called a penalty the partisan crowd would chant, "FRASER SUCKS!" Not once did I hear "#2 Sucks."

The officials are part of the game and they each have a unique personality. Put their names back on their backs because a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet...