Fraser: Was Burrows' bear hug to Backes third man in?

Kerry Fraser
4/17/2013 6:35:38 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at!

Hello Kerry,

I was wondering how you would have handled the situation in the second period during the Blues/Canucks game on Tuesday. At 15:56, David Backes and Keith Ballard dropped the gloves to fight and before Backes could get his helmet off he was grabbed by Alex Burrows. Ballard received two for high sticking, Burrows received a double minor for roughing, Backes received two minutes for cross checking and two minutes for roughing. While the Blues ended up with a power play, would you consider Burrows jumping in as a third man in? How would you have handled the situation?

Chris Schellenbach
Kirkwood, MO


Hi Kerry,

In the Canucks/Blues game (that's been played with a real playoff intensity), David Backes shoves Keith Ballard from behind into the boards awkwardly. He gets up and exchanges shoves and a slash with Backes before both drop the gloves and while Backes is getting his helmet off, Alex Burrows comes in and bear hugs Backes to stop a fight from happening. Would you consider this as a third man in or, as a fight between Ballard and Backes didn't happen, the primary altercation and therefore not an altercation?

As a referee in soccer, it's a little easier, but I was wondering what your best way to control a game that was getting chippy? For me, I'm surprised that ten minute misconduct penalties aren't handed out more frequently as a way to have players calm down.

Gareth Evans
Richmond, BC


Hi Kerry,
Big fan of your column. This question is in regards to discipline against the officiating crew. In the second period of the Blues-Canucks game, one of the linesmen was separating David Backes from an after whistle scrum. While being led away from the scrum, Keith Ballard got up close and started jawing at Backes. I was really surprised when the linesman shoved Ballard away!
I understand that being the linesman in an NHL game is one of the most thankless jobs when it comes to breaking up a fight, but in this case it seemed like the linesman was the instigator.  My question is are their guidelines from the league on what actions can/can't be done towards players? Is it possible that this linesman could be sanctioned by the league?
Keep up the great work!
John, Vancouver, BC.

Chris, Gareth and John:

The letter of the law (the rule book) defines an altercation as "a situation involving two players at least one to be penalized" (46.3). It is no coincidence that the rule is found in Rule 46 - Fighting. When the rule was first implemented it was intended to stop brawling, which usually resulted when a third player intervened in a fight. In the early years, a player would be ejected even when he attempted to act as a peacemaker for something as little as grabbing a fighter's jersey. That didn't seem to make much sense when in many cases a fight had not yet even started to rock and roll.

The definition of a third man in - first to intervene in an altercation in progress, as stated in the rule book at the time - changed when a situation in the playoffs occurred where two players had dropped their gloves and squared up to fight but had not yet thrown a punch. While these two were measuring one another, a "third man" skated up and sucker-punched his opponent and they began to fight. Since the first fight had not technically started, the rule handcuffed the officials to assess a game misconduct. That is when it was redefined and included the discretion of the referee to make the determination as to when and how it would be applied.

Everyone - fans included - should want a player to earn his penalty time; especially when it involves an ejection from the game.  When "roughing" incidents involve three players, as was the case Tuesday night, the referees will often treat them as such in the absence of a legitimate fight. I know many will say, "but the rule says...!" 

There are times when separate minor penalties would suffice. I do not believe that Tuesday night was one of those times. While Alexandre Burrows did a perfect impersonation of a linesman preventing a fight (Alex would hate the cut in pay), it was through his actions of jumping on the back of David Backes with a stick held high in his hand that Backes ultimately sustained a cut to his head. I do not believe it was Burrows' stick that caused the laceration but occurred when the two players wrestled to the ice. Backes went down hard without his helmet, which he had removed to fight with Keith Ballard.

The actions of Burrows clearly fell under Rule 46.16 (third man in) - "A game misconduct penalty, at the discretion of the referee, shall be imposed on any player who is the first to intervene (third man in) in an altercation already in progress except when a match penalty is being imposed in the original altercation. This penalty is in addition to any other penalties incurred in the same incident. This rule also applies to subsequent players who elect to intervene in the same or other altercations during the same stoppage of play. Generally, this rule is applied when a fight occurs."

Both Keith Ballard and David Backes had been fully engaged in an altercation from the very first push into the boards that Ballard received from Backes. After hitting each other with their sticks more than once, they agreed to drop their gloves and remove their helmets to fight.

Since you asked; I would have raised my arm immediately and signaled a boarding penalty on David Backes for the push from behind that sent Keith Ballard awkwardly in the end boards. Ballard deserved a cross-check for retaliating; Backes returned the favour and deserved a cross-checking penalty as well.

As these two players squared off to fight, Alexandre Burrows deserved a double roughing minor plus a game misconduct as the third man into the altercation and Backes would receive a roughing minor for his part in the skirmish with Burrows.

-David Backes: 6 minutes in minor penalties
-Keith Ballard: 2 minutes
-Alexandre Burrows: 4 minutes minor plus a game misconduct

David Backes initiated this altercation with the push from behind to Ballard. There was no call forthcoming once Backes eliminated Ballard and then had a good scoring opportunity in front of the net.

Dear John from Vancouver:

I did not see either of the linesmen exert excessive force in the discharge of their duties and particularly toward Keith Ballard. The linesmen received a knee/kick in the head from Burrows as they attempted to separate the wrestling match on the ice.

What I did see was some obvious dialogue initiated by the linesmen and designed to calm the players. As they helped the players up from the ice I couldn't help but notice that the linesmen retained a hand on the players to control them and steer them but did so in a non-confrontational manner. They were very effective in diffusing hostilities and keeping players separated from each other and the referees.

The only "linesman" I would give a bad grade for improper technique in breaking up a fight was Alexandre Burrows.

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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