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Fraser: Dispelling the conspiracy theory of Senators fans

Kerry Fraser

2/2/2012 9:08:53 AM

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!

Hey Kerry,

As a Sens fan, I've watched about as much poor officiating as I can take. Tuesday night's debacle in the Sens/Bruins game has put me over the edge. Dan O'Rourke has for a third time in the past three weeks, directly affected the outcome of a Sens game with his obvious bias. My concern, now that it has become so apparent, is what if any recourse does the Sens organization have to get to the bottom of this?  Does the league fine or suspend officials that can be shown to be unprofessional in their work?  Can the team request that a problem official be removed from the crews that are to do their remaining games?  I would love to hear your take on this, because this situation is getting out of hand.  Having watched most games over the past three seasons, I can't understand how the Sens are consistently the highest penalized team in the league.  It is bordering on the ridiculous.

Jamie in Ottawa

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Kerry,

As an Ottawa Senators fan, I watch practically every game and the refereeing in Senators games is blatantly one-sided. I am not one to whine and feel like the world is against the team I cheer for, but the penalty differential facts are there and from what I've seen, I am losing respect for officials, no offense. There is always talk about bringing in more digitized officiating and I used to be against it, however the officiating this year in the NHL and against Ottawa particularly, seems to be "game-altering", which is certainly not what we want. Chris Phillips was called for covering the puck in the crease which led to a penalty shot for the opponent. He clearly slid the puck to Anderson and did not cover his hand over the puck. Another example is the referee calling Erik Karlsson a "diver". First of all, this is completely unprofessional, and second, Karlsson has one diving call in his career (far from being labeled as a diver)

There needs to be more action taken against officials and "poor acts of officiating". This game is a game, but many people's lives depend on the successes and failures of their respective careers and referees can have a huge impact on that. Anytime the officiating takes away from the "fair and true fate" of the outcome, then I consider it deemed "poor officiating" and action should be taken. I am by no means suggesting that officiating is "rigged" or "fixed", however I think it would be naive to think that referees don't have biases towards or against certain players and teams. Players and even coaches get punished for their actions in a game, so why not officials? What makes referees above the game? There needs to be some form of "challenge system" or a "video official" which can correct any calls or missed calls during the course of a game. This would make for a more accurate and precise game and who wouldn't want that? What are your thoughts, Kerry?

Sincerely,

Greg Pierce in Fredericton, NB

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Hey Kerry,

Curious after watching the Boston vs. Ottawa game about how officiating is reviewed by the league during the season. IMHO, the penalties that the Sens received were no doubt penalties, but what struck me after the game and from what I can see struck the Sens coach as well is the perceived non-calls against the Bruins throughout the game. Coincidentally it was the same official that called one of the Sens players a diver!

So my question is not about each non-call and why it was/was not a penalty, my question is what does the NHL do in regards to officiating in all games throughout the year? Do officials get questioned on why or why not a call was made, how they handled certain situations? In other words are they held accountable for their actions in efforts to improve the level of officiating? What happens when there is simply no explanation for a call?

Peter in Ottawa

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Hi Kerry,

Seriously, how is it that a team is nearly a whole game minus when it comes to power play minutes for and against? As a Sens fan, you've got to wonder what is going on. Is the league fixing games?  Are the refs unprofessional and taking their personal feelings out on a team?

I'm talking about a game against the Bruins where the Sens have four penalty kills and the Bruins have none. I'm talking about the road trip west where it could easily be argued that we saw a single ref cause them to lose two games in a row. I'm talking about the lopsided plus/minus for penalties throughout the year. I'm talking about blatant head shots against Alfredsson that went unpunished.

I've seen games over the years when the Sens have had all the power plays and have been embarrassed. There is no way one team in a single game should be given three, four, five power plays in a game and the other team gets none. There is no way a single team should be down by that many minutes in penalties for or against.

There has got to be something going on in the NHL. If I had the money of Melnyk, I'd offer to pay any fine MacLean can get for screaming at the league/refs for the blatant bias.  As I only have the money that I have, I will probably stop watching NHL altogether as if a fix isn't in, then the quality of the refereeing is disgusting. Can you honestly say you can watch the broadcast (let alone what isn't shown outside the camera angle) and say the Bruins didn't deserve a penalty or that any team should have such a lopsided plus minus in penalties?

Tim from Ottawa

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An open response to ALL fans that think referees display bias against teams and individual players:

A very serious accusation of bias is being made by Ottawa Senators fans in each of the above questions against the officials and in particular referee, Dan O'Rourke. This largely stems from a game in Anaheim when Sens coach Paul McLean reported that referee O'Rouke allegedly told him that Eric Karlsson was a "diver".

While I dealt with that incident at length in a previous column, it appears the perception created from this incident has become reality for many Ottawa fans and perhaps even the players and team management.  Let me attempt to set the record straight.

Over my many years as a professional referee, I have been cussed at in the most vile language imaginable by players and coaches, spat upon (one time directly into my open mouth from close range by a player in the IHL), physically attacked, had a helmet thrown at me by Theo Fleury, a stick launched like a javelin off the LA Kings bench by then coach Tom Webster, ducked a water bottle thrown at my head by Wings captain Reed Larson and countless pucks that 'not so accidentally' came in my direction. None of these things infuriated me more than being called a "cheater" (biased) or "gutless (coward)!"

Those highly offensive terms questioned my integrity, which I held above all else, in addition to my manhood and courage. When accused of either, I responded immediately with a misconduct penalty in addition to anything else that was allowed within the rules.

When your questions centered on the integrity of the officiating staff or any particular referee, I took it very seriously. I watched the entire Boston-Ottawa game from start to finish.  I closely observed the game, making honest and objective notes no differently than the NHL Officiating Department would do if such claims were initiated by a team for investigation.  (NHL teams do make requests of the Officiating Department to review particular calls or a referee's performance that they deem unsatisfactory.  This request is usually by the team general manager to the Sr. VP of Officiating - presently Terry Gregson. A review and full report is then issued to the team general manager.)

This not "Fraser sticking up for the officials once again," as some of you have claimed. Remember my premise and promise to you in crafting this article is threefold -"Honesty, Fairness and Opinionated!"

As such, there have been times when my honest assessment has not agreed with the officials.  Trust me, at times such as this, I have not endeared myself to my former colleagues. I accept their disappointment (most often disdain) as the price I must pay for being objective and honest in my new role.

In the following review of the game, I find absolutely no evidence of bias on the part of the officiating crew in either the penalties that were assessed or their judgment on non-calls.

If there was in fact a bias against the Ottawa team by the referee, the outcome and judgment demonstrated on the following plays would have been much different. This is what I observed:

First Period:

9:50 Good non-call; Brad Marchand (Ott) breaks in on goal and is pursued by an Ottawa defenceman. Marchand toe-picks and falls but complains he was fouled. Contact did not cause Marchand to fall.

9:51 Minor penalty instead of penalty shot; Sergei Gonchar (Ott) is assessed a hooking minor for taking down Marchand after receiving a quick breakaway pass. Gonchar hooks from a position behind Marchand and a penalty shot could easily have been awarded instead of a minor. (Chara scores on PP)

12:58 *Missed Call; Ott Gonchar strikes and takes down David Krejci (Bos) with a hard slash to the legs. Referee Martell turning/avoiding player contact in the corner near the play. Back ref, O'Rourke does not impose himself as back referee to make the call against Ottawa from a long distance away.

17:30 Good non-call; Joe Corvo (Bos) steps up and delivers a hard, clean, open-ice body check on Kyle Turris (Ott) at the centre red line. Ref O'Rourke looked on and correctly ruled no penalty on the play.

Second Period:

8:41 *Missed Call; Milan Lucic (Bos) steps up late and boards Eric Condra inside the blue line. The puck was being battled for up the wall and referee O'Rourke was focused on the puck action and would not have seen the hit delivered by Lucic from his obstructed view. Back referee responsibility. **This was the only infraction in the game that I would have called against Boston. This one was missed!

15:37 *Non call/Missed call; Nick Foligno (Ott) does a wide cut path with skates and trips Peverley. Could have very easily been deemed a trip - referee O'Rourke viewed the play from close proximity and chose otherwise. No penalty to Ottawa assessed.

Third Period:

00:46 Obvious trip called; Erik Karlsson trips Tyler Seguin on break toward the Ottawa goal.

5:20 Good non call; Sergei Gonchar (Ott) clamps on stick of Milan Lucis (Bos) in the corner and in clear view of referee O'Rourke. Gonchar does a 'catch and release' of the stick. Referee O'Rourke does not overreact and correctly allows play to continue without assessing a holding the stick penalty to Gonchar.

7:56 Diving Non Call on Chris Neil (Ott); Shortly after Dennis Seidenberg scored the fourth and ultimate game-winning goal with a centre ice slapshot, Ottawa attempted to draw a power play. Chris Kelly delivered a light, short cross-check shove to the upper arm of Chris Neil as the two players converged at center ice. Neil threw himself to the ice in an obvious embellishment attempt to draw a penalty. This is likely a case where the scrutiny referee O'Rourke might be enduring from the Karlsson diving report resulted in a non-call to Chris Neil. Given the pressure any referee would feel following a highly publicized incident, he would not look to provoke or draw further attention by making a call of this nature; warranted or otherwise. If referee O'Rourke held bias or contempt for the Ottawa Senators, this was a call he could step up and make ultimately rubbing salt in a fresh wound. That is not the case, folks!

12:50 Non call on Ottawa; Nick Foligno stabs at the puck and gets mostly the leg of Adam McQuaid (Bos) but a little puck. Referee O'Rourke was close by and deemed it not to be a penalty to the Ottawa player, likely given the fact that some contact with the puck was made.

17:12 Tripping Penalty to Ottawa: Nick Foligno used his active stick to take a bad penalty deep in the attacking zone when he pushed the leg of Rich Peverley while he was turning with the puck. The leg pressure caused Peverley to trip and fall. Even though Foligno complained, this was a penalty.

19:56 Aggressive Cross-Check Penalty; Jason Spezza let his frustration get the better of him and delivered a hard cross-check to the back of Johnny Boychuk. Obvious penalty but one that counts in the stats as number of penalties assessed to the Ottawa Senators.

In the final review of the officiating in this game, there is just one Bruins penalty that went uncalled/undetected (Lucic boarding). On the other side of the tally sheet, I observed five plays committed by the Ottawa players that could very well have been deemed penalties to support your theory of bias. (Gonchar slash, Foligno skate trip, Gonchar stick hold, Neil dive, Foligno trip on McQuaid). There were several good non-calls in this game for both sides where the referees utilized good judgment and did not overreact.
 
In answer to your questions as to how one team (Ottawa) could receive multiple penalty calls against while the Bruins were not deemed guilty of any, I offer you the same answer I gave to coach Bob Hartley one night in Colorado. Hartley informed me that his Colorado Avalanche had just taken their fifth penalty in a row while the other team had none. I responded to Bob that while math was never my best subject, if they were to commit the next infraction, it would make No. 6.

I have had games where one team received all the penalties and their opponents none. Referees do not act as accountants to balance the books. It is not their job to make sure each team receives an equal number of penalties by the end of the game.

This conspiracy theory has gotten way out of hand. Mistakes are made in a game and they most often result from a deficient sight line when ruling on a play, just like the penalty shot that was called in error against Chris Phillips. Please believe me when I tell you they are honest mistakes. Each official takes his responsibility to uphold the integrity of the game very seriously.

Please swear at me but don't call me (or my former colleagues) "cheaters" (biased) or "gutless." There is no place for either in a striped jersey. 

In this case, your perception is not in touch with reality.