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With a big Game 7 between the Rangers and Capitals on Saturday night, what are your memories of reffing Game 7's? Any in particular you can remember?
The Rangers-Capitals series has been extremely close and hard fought to this point and I expect Game 7 to be no different. To a man, players from both teams are fully committed and have bought into the shot blocking, pay the price demands insisted upon by coaches, John Tortorella and Dale Hunter. Goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby have been equally spectacular and either one of them can steal a win for his team almost singlehandedly. With both teams ready to play this Game 7, it should be a real crapshoot. But then again, this is usually the way of any Stanley Cup playoff series that takes the full seven games to determine a winner.
I was called upon to referee several deciding games of this nature over my 30 year NHL career. I want to provide you with some personal insight as to how an official approaches his job under these conditions. The preparation required by an official assigned to a game of this magnitude is not much different than that of a player. Each official wants to perform to his highest level and be the very best that his talent level allows him to be.
The crew assigned to this game arrived in NY City yesterday afternoon or in the early evening in time for dinner together. Casual conversation over dinner would have always deviated back to the main item on their mental menu - the game to be worked the next night. Even as they relaxed and broke bread together they could not help but be distracted by thoughts of previous games that had been played in this series and player tendencies from personal experience that would be openly shared. Any conversation centered on the game would be positive in nature and a healthy and gradual shift of both their mental focus and energy level as the clock ticked slowly toward puck drop.
Following a good dinner, the officials might take a walk in the hustle and bustle of a beautiful Friday evening in NY City around Times Square. The officials would agree to meet at a certain time for breakfast or a stretch and workout in the hotel gym before turning in early and attempting to shut the mind and body down for a good night of rest. Most guys would turn on the television. I didn't like the noise and distraction. I preferred to read.
The last thing I did before turning out the light was calling home and having a lengthy conversation with my wife Kathy to catch up on her days events from the home front. After hanging up the phone and saying my nighttime prayers, I was ready to enter a deep sleep with happy and thankful thoughts with distractions all but eliminated. Everything I did was designed to achieve and remain in a state of emotional calm and raise the bar to a desired level just prior to taking the ice and drop the puck to start the game.
This form of preparation was a far cry from what I shared with you previously about the night before Game 7 in 1985 of the Montreal-Quebec series in just my third year of working in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You might recall I broke out in itchy red welts (hives) through a bad case of nerves during a restless night of attempted sleep! I certainly learned a great deal from this early experience and it didn't take long for me to become more comfortable in my skin!
Two memories of the most recent Game 7's I worked were in the Cup finals when Tampa defeated Calgary in 2004 and Ray Bouque's Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. The energy in the city of Denver the morning of the final game was like none I had ever experienced. It continued to build throughout the day in anticipation of not just the Avs winning but more in anticipation and hopefulness that Raymond Bourque would finally win the Stanley Cup. In one of the classiest moves I ever saw on the ice, captain Joe Sakic received the Cup and immediately handed it over to Ray Bouque.
The Tampa-Calgary series was a disaster from an assignment process before the series even started with both referee pairings (McCreary/Walkom and Watson and I) assigned to work all of our games in the same venue as opposed to rotating games in different cities. Brad Watson and I were assigned to work all of our games in Calgary; 3, 4 and 6.
I knew it was the recipe for disaster that it proved to be and the league made a last-minute change following Game 5 and sent McCreary and Walkom back to Calgary to work Game 6. I was the backup assigned to Game 5 in Tampa and we were informed of their decision by Director of Officiating Andy Van Hellemond and Colin Campbell, VP of Hockey Operations after the game in the official's room. The problem was nobody informed Brad Watson, who was at home in Denver. He overheard the press who connected through Denver all talking about the change in referee assignments. Watson got on the plane to Calgary and was the standby referee in Game 6.
McCreary and I were assigned to work Game 7 following the overtime win by Tampa. Problem here was in the rush for all the administrative people to catch the red-eye flight back to Toronto, I didn't officially get the assignment for Game 7 either. I called the league travel arranger Sunday morning and asked if he knew who was working Game 7. He informed me I was and he had booked a flight for me. There was more drama following the official's morning skate in the dressing room with the Director of Officiating. It took tremendous effort to block out all the distractions. It was bizarre!
Game 7 went very well once we got Hulk Hogan to finish his fan hype routine on the ice after his daughter sang the national anthem. Tampa won the game and the Cup by a score of 2-1. Andrew Ference took an undisciplined penalty with under two minutes remaining when he hammered Marty St. Louis into the end boards. Dave Andreychuk followed not too long afterward with a penalty of his own and the teams each finished a man short. The Flames pulled goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff but couldn't tie it up. I remember that series because of all the distractions that were created and that the officials had to overcome.
I am certain that the officials who have been selected to work Game 7 tonight between the Rangers and Caps in Madison Square Garden will not have to face any distractions even remotely close to these. They, like the players, will be well prepared and ready to work the game to the best of their ability. The final X's and O's that the officiating team should go over are a reminder as to areas of ice coverage and individual responsibilities each one has in situations to avoid any gaps. Discussions relative to interference on the goalkeeper and support coverage by all members of the crew when the puck and players are in and around the crease should also be fully discussed before taking to the ice.
Once they step out of the dressing room they should be ready for whatever happens but not overreact. Finally, they should enjoy the moment from the best seat in the house for what should be a terrific Game 7.
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