Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Here's a question Kerry,
In the Leafs-Rangers game Monday, James van Riemsdyk was called for a tripping penalty on Anton Stralman - and replays showed some embellishment in his own zone. After a whistle during the Rangers' power play, the commentator mentioned that the referee actually skated over to talk to Stralman - who was right back out there for the man advantage! My question to you is, if the referee makes an obvious mistake and realizes it soon after, what does the referee do? Do you compensate for the team on the wrong end of the call?
Eric: Thank you for the great question. Practically everyone reading this will say that an "even-up" call will be made by the Referee in the scenario you presented. While it is highly unlikely that a Referee would "invent" an infraction, the hard truth is that while every Referee's attempted objective is to maintain a "consistent" standard, he might alter that standard to grab a quick penalty with an eye toward fairness. If that meets your definition of an "even-up" call to compensate for an obvious mistake that has been made then so be it.
Before I go any farther I ask you to give some thought as to how you would respond if you knowingly placed a team a man short through an overreaction or weak penalty call? Look deep inside yourself and evaluate your personal makeup and human nature tendencies before you respond? The key here is that you knowing made an error and not that you missed a call (Back off Leafs fans).
A Referee is expected to enforce the playing rules through sound judgment without bias to provide for player safety, a common fairness (uphold the integrity of the game) and to allow for an "entertaining" game flow for the participants and spectators alike. This can certainly become a balancing act given the varied judgment that can result from one person's perception on a play to another. Some personalities also lean toward a need to always have their decisions viewed as "right!" I learned very early that I wasn't always right and wasn't afraid to admit it in the moment when I knew I was wrong.
Wayne Gretzky wrote in the foreword of my book that, "As any player does, I had a few run-ins with Kerry over those years. (Our respective on-ice careers) In fact, it was probably more than a few. I don't think he was always right, but I know I wasn't either. Players and refs often don't see things the same way in the middle of a game…but in the end you always knew Kerry was being as fair as he could possibly be."
Very early in my career I recognized that (like Wayne said) I was not always right; nor did I feel the need to falsely portray the fact that I was. Gaining the respect of the players, coaches and hockey community for being honest, fair and as consistent as humanly possible is the key to success for an Official. As such, I admitted to players on the ice when I felt I erred in calling a penalty. The immediate response from that player was, "You owe us one!" I usually responded with, "Two wrongs don't make a right so do your best to kill it!"
I can tell you there were many times I felt my stomach in knots after being fooled on a play or calling a marginal infraction. A two minute power play seemed like an eternity when the other team pressed hard and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make it right. That means that I would not compromise the game further by "inventing" a penalty against the team on the tainted power play. If, on the other hand a 'gift horse' presented itself in the form of some infraction that could be deemed an illegal advantage gained by the team on the power play I was quick to grab it; perhaps a pick, interference or anything of the sort. If a team killed the penalty I would breathe a sigh of relief—if a power play goal was scored I gulped as the air escaped my lungs hoping my error would not affect the final outcome of the game. That is all part of being human.
The implementation of the two referee system also presented some unique challenges given the different judgments and sightlines that two Referees bring to a game. I had a game in Boston with less than two minutes remaining and the score tied. I was the back Referee standing in front of the Buffalo Sabres bench with the Bruins on the attack. My young partner was on the other side of the ice along the goal line as a Bruins forward was carrying the puck behind the Sabres net with an a defender in pursuit. My Ref partner was looking through their backs as they skated away from him when the Bruins player ran into the back of the goal frame with his skate and fell down as he tried to cut to the front of the net. Immediately the Referee raised his arm thinking that the Sabres defenceman had tripped the Bruins attacker. Lindy Ruff, the entire Sabres/Bruins bench and I saw that the player tripped himself on the net and fell on his own. Ruff screamed to me that the wrong call had been made. I told him to relax and that it looked much differently to the other Ref from his position.
On the very next end zone faceoff the Bruins won the puck back to the point. As a Sabres forward attempted to get to the point he was 'marginally' interfered with by a Bruins' forward who detained him by skating across his path with slight contact. I immediately raised my arm and assessed an interference penalty to the Bruins player. Two seconds had clicked off the clock and the teams played 4 on 4 hockey to the end of the game.
While two wrongs don't make a right I felt it was much better not to look a gift horse in the mouth in this situation!