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What an exciting start to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final series played by two highly skilled and gritty Original Six teams in Chicago Wednesday night. If you were like me, you hung in there on the edge of your favorite seat until Andrew Shaw of the Blackhawks deflected the winner past Tuukka Rask with 7:52 remaining in triple overtime. I suggest you not give up that seat because I am sure there is much more where this one came from, regardless of the final outcome; or even how long it takes.
Given the fan enthusiasm and questions I received through tweets (@kfraserthecall) as the game protracted into the wee hours, I am going to dispense with the typical 'question of the day'. Instead, I want to provide some personal insight and share with you the thought process and pressure that an official feels at ice level when a Stanley Cup Final game extends into multiple overtime periods. Following that, I will provide some brief observations from Wednesday night's game and what I see on the radar screen that might need to be addressed.
Let's roll the clock back to a time when the conventional thinking was to 'let the players decide the outcome of the game'. The date was May 19, 1989 and the Montreal Canadiens, coached by Pat Burns hosted Terry Crisp's Calgary Flames for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final series. The teams had split the first two games played in Calgary with some nastiness starting to boil over. My pre-game instructions from Director of Officiating John McCauley was to bring the series back under control and to 'lay the hammer down' if necessary.
It only took 34 seconds after the opening puck drop in Game 3 before Doug Gilmour (Cgy) received a hooking minor and Chris Chelios (Mtl) high-sticking. By the end of the second period, I had assessed 23 minor penalties. To provide you with a feel for the temperature of that game, included were coincidental unsportsmanlike conduct infractions at 20:00 of the first period to Al MacInnis (Cgy)and Brian Skrudland (Mtl). Then again at 19:00 of the second period to Dana Murzyn (Cgy) and Skrudland.
I had set a strong standard of enforcement as requested by McCauley and players from both teams responded with hard, disciplined play that was very entertaining and exciting to watch as we moved into the third period. The game dictated that I only call offsetting minor penalties midway through the third to MacInnis (high-stick) and Shayne Corson (cross-check). The score was tied 3-3 at the end of regulation.
Sitting in the officials' dressing room prior to the first overtime, I would have verbally expressed to linesmen Ray Scapinello and Kevin Collins that we could only hope for a 'clean' goal to end it and if I got caught behind the play on a fast break to be sure and cover for me at the goal line. (With only one ref and no video review on goals, we needed a set of eyes on the goal line!)
The other instruction would have been to get between players quickly to avoid having to call a stand-alone penalty if at all possible. I would have also hoped that the disciplined play demonstrated by both teams in the third period would carry into the overtime.
No such luck! From the midway point of the first overtime, I 'managed' a spurt in aggressive player behavior by calling four sets of coincidental minor penalties at various times. We entered the first overtime intermission wondering aloud if this game was ever going to end. I know I was exhausted (end-to-end chasing play) and was certain the players were, as well. By hydrating and refueling with fruit during the intermission, I hoped to stave off physical and mental fatigue that would become a reality the longer this game continued.
The second overtime period started hard and fast on fresh ice as each team tried their best to end it early. Midway through this period, another pair of coincidental minor penalties resulted when MacInnis and Bob Gainey were guilty of high-sticking one another. Not that I was looking for one but a clear-cut, stand-alone penalty had not yet materialized for me to raise my arm. That changed with 3:52 remaining in the second overtime period.
Corson receive the puck in a stationary position three feet or so from the boards inside his blue line. He looked up ice and passed the puck to a teammate in the neutral zone but remained frozen facing the boards. Mark Hunter of the Flames continued on a direct route from some distance and with speed after Corson had released the puck. I vividly remember my conscious thought process as my mind spoke the words, 'Hunts' veer off, don't hit him, veer off, don't... oh s&*t!'
I defied conventional wisdom and raised my arm as Hunter struck Corson directly from behind and launched the Habs forward headfirst into the boards. The boarding call to Hunter was the first stand-alone penalty that resulted in a power play in that game since Rob Ramage (Cgy) had taken a holding penalty at 16:08 of the second period of regulation. Hunter's penalty expired at 16:08 of double overtime, which is the exact time on the clock that Ryan Walter jammed the winning goal past Mike Vernon with an assist from Stephane Richer. The Flames fanned in my direction.
The following day at the Stanley Cup luncheon, Director of Officiating addressed a media scrum with me by his side to answer questions concerning the shock waves resulting from a referee calling a penalty in overtime; let alone double OT. McCauley was very direct in his response and said that a call of that nature must be made at any time of the game, and if Fraser had not raised his arm, he might just as well stayed in the dressing room and watched the game on television! The Flames went on to win the Cup in six games and HHOF member Lanny McDonald scored his last NHL goal before retiring in the off-season. Doug Gilmour scored the game winner and added an insurance goal in a 4-2 Flames victory. I had defied conventional wisdom.
On The Radar Screen
In Game 1, I did not see a situation where a stand-alone infraction resulted in any of the overtime periods for the referees to impose their authority. While we can always point to a call here or there, the officiating was not a factor in the hard-fought, hugely entertaining game. Good on them!
I saw two things on the radar screen that I would highlight as this series progresses, however. I would advise both team coaches and management that these issues are not acceptable and instruct the referees accordingly.
The first is in regard to embellishment. In my judgment, both Michal Handzus and Andrew Shaw overreacted/embellished on the push from behind by Nathan Horton (interference) and Zdeno Chara (high-sticking), respectively. If selling of calls is allowed to continue, the floodgates will likely be opened up by both teams and detract from this terrific level of play.
The other area is in regard to Brad Marchand dragging his skate and taking down Corey Crawford from behind in a slew-foot fashion. This is not the first time I have seen this player commit the same act in this playoff season (accidentally on purpose). I would advise both teams it will not be tolerated and the attacking player must give way no differently than on a defenceman that is backing into his zone at the blue line. A tripping or interference penalty should result.
The three too many men on the ice penalties were bang on and correctly called by the officials. Good hard hits were allowed by both teams and the goaltending was utterly superb at both ends. Even the goal posts got involved in this marathon.
I am already getting excited for Game 2 in this finale but just disappointed we have to wait until Saturday. Given the length of Wednesday night's game, I'm sure the players are happy for the rest.