Fraser: Unsportsmanlike penalties - two minutes or ten?

Kerry Fraser
2/12/2013 12:42:55 PM
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Hi Kerry,
I'm watching the Coyotes/Avalanche game tonight (Feb. 11) and in the second period a 10-minute misconduct was assessed to Steve Sullivan, presumably for his disagreement with the diving penalty just given to his teammate.
My question is, how does a referee determine whether to assess a 10-minute misconduct or a two-minute unsportsmanlike in these situations? The rule book seems to say that the misconduct should be assessed after a minor has already been given ("In general, participants...are assessed a minor penalty, then a misconduct penalty and then a game misconduct penalty if they persist.")
I get the feeling that sometimes officials are more hesitant to give a power play than to punish the individual player and so they will skip straight to the 10. What's the thought process for an official here?
Joe Rice


You are absolutely correct in your interpretation of Rule 39—Abuse of Officials which states that a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct shall first be assessed to any player who challenges or disputes the ruling of an official. The rule follows to say that, "in general, participants displaying this type of behaviour are assessed a minor penalty, then a misconduct penalty and then a game misconduct penalty if they persist."

You are also accurate in your feeling that sometimes Officials are hesitant to assess the second minor for unsportsmanlike conduct which would result in a power play so instead bang their hips with a misconduct signal to punish that player for 10 minutes instead of his team. While losing a gritty player such as Steve Sullivan for 10 minutes can be a loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, a two-minute power play sends a much better signal to players on both teams not to challenge the rulings of the Referee. 

All Officials must utilize sound judgment (and often some patience) prior to assessing that second penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. In the heat of the battle human nature can take hold of an Official and fire him up to the point where his preference is to punish the player as opposed to the team. The Official might also be motivated to avoid the potential for added hostility that could come his way from a team that accuses him of trying to bury them.

The truth is none of these excuses matters and the Officials must follow the progression of penalties as it is written in the rule. While it might be best for an Official to avoid confrontation with a heated player wherever possible, once the player crosses the line he must be held accountable for his actions as prescribed in the rule. So long as the Referee is not "quick on the trigger" the player that puts his team in a shorthanded situation will have to face his coach and teammates for his lack of discipline. The player is the guilty party, not the Referee.

Let's not forget that Officials are human and subject to negative emotions that each of us can also let loose on occasion. There are times where a player gets under the Ref's skin through a series of progressive events until the lid finally blows. This can result in an inappropriate "quick on the trigger" response from an Official — certainly not the correct one but just a 'human response'.

I had the six guns locked and loaded one night in Tampa before the game even started and followed the progression of penalties as set forth in the rule without hesitation. This is how it all played out, Joe.

Tough guy, Enrico Ciccone had been a royal pain in my butt in a couple of previous games. His verbal abuse occurred late in close games when I chose not to punish his team and avoided a dust-up. The buildup of negative emotion I felt was choking me and it needed to escape.  

On his very first shift in the following game in Tampa, Enrico slashed an opponent. I immediately raised my arm for the infraction and blew the whistle to assess the penalty. Ciccone turned and scowled at me so I dropped my arm and "Teed" him up with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Ciccone's jaw dropped in shock and before he could utter a word I banged my hips and assessed a misconduct penalty. The Tampa player then raised his hands in disbelief as I circled my hand in a lasso motion ejecting Ciccone from the game on his first shift just two minutes after the opening puck drop! Enrico was in such shock he just left the ice and never uttered a word.

I watched the replay after the game and my hand signals were conducted in one continuous motion starting with the slash followed by the "T-bird", misconduct and game misconduct! I learned a valuable lesson that night; not to let my human emotions get the better of me.

Enrico Ciccone and I finished our respective careers without any further incident. We even had the occasion to laugh about my "blazing six guns" that night in Tampa on a radio show we appeared on in Montreal last season. Time heals most wounds.

Note to my friend, Steve Sullivan: You are very fortunate not to have hurt your team by taking a deserved minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. You are further advised to contain any emotional outbursts directed towards the guys in stripes in the future. Trust me when I tell you it's not worth the risk — just ask Enrico Ciccone.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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