Fraser: The Cole-Kimmerly high-five was all in good fun

Kerry Fraser

3/15/2012 4:15:53 PM

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Hi Kerry, love the blog - keep them coming!
I read some of your excerpts from your book last week and really enjoyed the stories you had to tell. Now did you see what Erik Cole did with the high-five with Greg Kimmerly after he scored the goal last night? Did anything of the sort ever happen to you during your career and if so, how did you react? It was fun to watch as a fan, but as a professional doing his job you would have to feel a bit weird about it, no?
Jessica Stone,
Edmonton, Alberta

Hi Jessica:

Thank you for enjoying the excerpts last week from The Final Call. The book is full of great stories from the inside.

I loved the spontaneity of Erik Cole's high-five celebration with Referee Greg Kimmerly last night even if others didn't. Events such as this demonstrate a couple of things for us to recall.

We have all observed the "big business" side of hockey and experienced disappointment and loss to various degrees during the lockout season. Some of the loss was purely emotional while others endured a year of financial loss.

Let's hope we don't go down that road again!

Erik Cole exhibited for the hockey world that the game can still be played by "big kids." In doing so he tapped into our emotions, lightened our hearts and perhaps restored in us the youthful enthusiasm that first caused us to fall in love with this great game.

What Cole also did was build a bridge for him and the rest of the hockey world to venture onto that secluded island inhabited by the referees and linesmen. Kimmerly and his colleagues were humanized and no longer the adversary. In crossing that bridge we saw a positive relationship initiated by the player toward the official; even if only for a moment. It was not done in disrespect.

While unsolicited by the referee, Kimmerly became part of the celebration and did not reject Cole's offering. While maintaining a somewhat stern and professional demeanor I am sure that Referee Kimmerly also felt "a bit weird", Jessica.

I hope that beneath the Referee's veiled look of seeming discomfort, Greg was suppressing a smile and perhaps even a chuckle as he became an unlikely celebrant with the goal scorer. Every official loves the game and its character moments (and characters) as much as the rest of us. After all, Kimmerly and his colleagues are only human and not robots.

There were several events during my 30-year NHL career (both verbal and non-verbal) that caused me to smile, sometimes laugh out loud and on occasion feel a bit weird. The feeling of weird often came through physical contact since it became visible to everyone in the arena and at home on their television monitor.

Bernie Nichols was not only a great player but a super guy to deal with. Bernie was a real free spirit however and you never knew from one minute to the next what was going to come out of his mouth or what he might pull. I waved off a goal scored against the L.A. Kings one night and a debate with players on the ice ensued. My mind was made up and as I broke away from the pack of players on my way to the time keeper's bench to report my decision.  Bernie quickly skated up beside me and asked what the call was. When I told him NO GOAL, Bernie reached his arm around me and gave me a big hug as we continued to skate together to the box. Shocked and 'weirded-out' I said, "Bernie, what are you doing?" Bernie said with a big smile, "That was a great call and I just want to share my joy with you." As I wiggled out of his arm grasp I said, "Thanks Bern, but the other team isn't quite as joyous so no more hugs please. Go away."

I enjoyed an equally pleasant working relationship with giant Steve McKenna who at 6'8" and 255 pounds was a very imposing figure. While not as skilled as Nichols, McKenna the enforcer could similarly demonstrate a humourous side to his likeable personality. One night, as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a scrum was taking place in the Igloo with Big Steve right in the middle of it. I slid well below his arm pits, look right up at him and shouted, "McKenna if you don't stop right now you and I are 'gonna' go!" A huge smiled broke out on Steve McKenna's face and forgetting all about the scrum reached down and lightly speed bagged me on the chin.

My response of, "Keep it up Knucklehead and I'll knock you out," brought laughter from all the potential combatants gathered and the scrum disbanded.

In my final visit to the Boston TD Garden (which was the second last game of my career) another giant of a man, Zdeno Chara, approached me after the last commercial time-out and in a private moment as I wrote in The Final Call, congratulated me on a tremendous career and that he and the game would miss me. Big Z, who stands six-nine, had to bend over at the waist to reach the level of my ear. At the end of the game I was a little embarrassed as Mark Recchi chased me down and gave me a big hug along with a sincere "good-bye my friend." At least I could look Rex in the eye!

When all is said and done, success in business (big or small) is often incumbent upon the bridges built to develop positive working relationships!

For anyone that might be 'wigged' out that Erik Cole somehow demonstrated disrespect toward the referee or threatened his authority I say, "Relax." Enjoy the lighter moments and unique personality that the game participants have to offer on occasion; especially when the puck isn't moving and there are no decisions to be made.