Fraser: The Bruins-Sabres, 'revenge' games and Brian Burke

Kerry Fraser

11/25/2011 1:51:51 PM

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Hey Kerry,
After hearing that 'Sherriff Shanny' issued warnings to both the Bruins and Sabres prior to their Wednesday game and seeing some of the stuff that ensued, were you ever refereeing a game where you knew ahead of time that something nasty could occur? How did you handle it prior to/during the game?
Willowdale, ON

Throughout my career I was called into many games like the recent Bruins-Sabres rematch where bad blood was still brewing from a previous incident or even a brawl. I loved the excitement and the challenge of being pressed into inaction for these types of encounters. One such assignment change involved the Boston Bruins and the Hartford Whalers.

I was at home in Sarnia, Ontario with a very rare weekend off. Early Sunday morning, I was abruptly awakened from a sound sleep by a telephone call from Director of Officiating John McCauley. In typical McCauley fashion he said, "Hey Big Guy (an oxymoron to say the least), wake up - I need you to catch a plane to Hartford for a game tonight." 

I thought that one of my colleagues must have been injured the night before for John to assign me to a game on such short notice.  My thought in this regard was reinforced by the fact that John attempted to give each one of his officials the very occasional weekend at home during the season and would only alter it if there was an emergency.  John obviously thought it was an emergency; not through injury however but a call to arms!

McCauley went on to tell me that Boston and Harford had played the night before in the Garden and it had resulted in a real mess. Full line brawls and excessive stick related incidents erupted throughout the game. The real storyline (and need for me to go to Hartford for the rematch McCauley lamented) was because of the telephone calls he had received immediately after the game from both teams' general managers and coaches complaining how horrible the referee had been in that game. According to both sides, it is a small miracle that none of their players were injured, maimed or killed!

I stepped onto the ice at the Harford Civic Center for the game that night and both team captains - Ray Bourque of the Bruins and Randy Ladouceur of the Whalers - approached me at the same time and said, "We are so happy to see you here tonight. You should have seen what took place last night. It was horrible."

Ray and Randy presented their own 'B's and Whales tales' from the previous night's game. I simply said, "John McCauley gave me a full blow-by-blow and to warn your guys that I was prepared to lay the hammer down, if necessary, to keep this one under control." It was the only time in my career I can recall that both teams were genuinely happy to see me step onto the ice to referee their game.

As is often the case in these types of perceived battles, nothing developed. I'm not sure if it was a result of my presence, my pre-puck drop threats to Bourque and Ladouceur, or the fact that both teams were just plain tired out from the night before, but I looked like the knight riding in on the white horse when the game was over.

In my book The Final Call (just released by Fenn/McClelland & Stewart in paperback with an updated chapter), I wrote about another volatile situation I was reassigned to; this one by then-Senior VP of Hockey Operations Brian Burke. It involved a threat made by Lyle Odelein against Eric Lindros. The following is an excerpt from The Final Call:

"As the centre of the famed Legion of Doom Line with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, Lindros was part of one of the most prolific scoring units of the time. Given their size, speed, and skill, this trio was very aptly named. Teams trying to find a way to neutralize them found it impossible. Lyle Odelein of the Canadiens thought he had the answer one night in Montreal in 1995, when he challenged the Big E to a fight. Things didn't go too well for Odie, though. After the game, he threatened to get Lindros in the rematch back in Philadelphia a couple of nights later. Brian Burke was the VP of hockey operations and had me re-assigned to that game. Burkie and his assistant, Dave Nonis, attended the game in case Odelein made good on his threat. I was prepared to bring the hammer down if necessary to keep the game safe and under control.

For the opening faceoff, I fired the puck down so hard that it scooted through my feet and just behind me. I rotated my upper body, both to find the puck and to move away from it, when LeClair came racing out of his starting blocks from the wing position to get the loose puck, hammering me right in the middle of my back. Two of the discs in my back were herniated upon impact. I was doubled over and could not straighten up. I backed up toward the penalty box, and one of the linesmen blew the whistle to stop play. Still bent in half (I measured about two and half feet tall in this position), I was guided off the ice by Jim McCrossin, the Flyers' Trainer. The game, one to which I had been assigned for a specific purpose, was only a dozen seconds old and I was being dragged off the ice, unable to stand up.

The doctors were waiting for me in the medical room. They got me partially undressed, and Michael Wienik, a doctor of osteopathy from Temple University, manipulated me to the point where I was able to stand erect. The problem was that now I couldn't bend over! Burkie and Nonis, both of whom are outstanding people as well as great hockey minds, were in the room and very concerned. Burkie asked me what I wanted to do. I said we didn't have an alternative; I was going out to finish what he brought me here to do. But first, I needed their help to get dressed. Since I couldn't bend over, I had to stand while they dressed me. I wish I had a camera as Brian Burke hitched up my pants.

Brian and Dave then bent down and each laced up one of my skates. Burkie commented that the size of my feet reminded him of lacing up his boys' skates the week before. I couldn't resist giving Brian Burke a little tap on the top of his head while he was down there tying my skates. He said, "Kerry, if you ever tell anybody about this, I'll fire you." I was helped to the ice and the game continued.

Fortunately, Lyle Odelein never made good on the threat he issued. I finished the game and shuffled my feet like a 90-year-old man as I left the arena that night. The Legion of Doom certainly inflicted some pain that night."

In Buffalo the other night, I don't think warnings or threats issued from anyone (including Shanahan) would have made a difference in the outcome. The Buffalo Sabres knew that they had to respond in ways that they deemed appropriate. If nothing else the Sabres gained a measure of respect and I am quite sure came together as a team after the dust settled.

Happy Black Friday to everyone in the United States. There have been more fights reported in the shopping malls to this point than the Sabres-Bruins game. It's all about paying the price!