Fraser: Planning for injured or missing NHL officials

Kerry Fraser
5/20/2013 2:15:40 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

Hi Kerry,

Keep up the great column. Just thought I'd share this interesting story and question:

At the weekend, a linesman went down injured late in the first period of an Australian Ice Hockey League game in Melbourne between the Melbourne Ice and the Newcastle North, after unfortunately being on the receiving end of a big hit. He was taken off the ice concussed and could not return to the game. In an extraordinary turn of events, Fox Sports Australia commentator Stephen White, an IIHF certified referee who was calling the game, was forced to jump out of the commentary box and into the game as the back-up linesman as no other was available to allow the game to continue. Apparently it was a forfeit had he not stepped in.

I just want to know what the ruling is on this in the NHL, if certain officials get injured how long is it before the game has to be called off?

By the way this story is all over the news in Australia, apparently this has never happened in any sport in history (a commentator replacing an injured match official).

Cheers, Jake

G'Day Jake!

We at TSN and C'mon Ref are honoured to answer your question from 'Down Under' and the unusual incident you described during an Australian Ice Hockey League game. Kudos to Fox Sports commentator Stephen White for allowing the game to be completed instead of forfeited when he exchanged his microphone for a whistle. I loved the YouTube footage from the game and hope that injured Linesman, Russell Huber has fully recovered from the hit he took.

An NHL game would never be called off should any (or all) of the Officials be unable to continue through illness, accident or even in cases where they were unable to arrive at the game through any misadventure, including bad weather. Provisions in the NHL rule book provide for such situations to indicate that "the show must go on!"

Rule 31.1—If, owing to illness or accident, one of the Referees is unable to continue to officiate, the remaining Referee shall perform the duties of the ill or injured Referee during the balance of the game. In the event that a member of the League's Hockey Operations departments is in attendance at a game where a spare official is present, he shall have the authority to substitute the injured Referee with the spare official.

(In reality any NHL Ref or Lineman if in attendance would suit up in the event one of the Officials could not continue. In the playoffs there is always a Stand-by Official assigned to the game who is required to be dressed and ready to go, short of lacing up his skates. In deciding games both a Stand-by Referee and Linesmen are assigned.)

If, through misadventure of sickness, the Referees and Linesmen appointed are prevented from appearing, the League will make every attempt to find suitable replacement officials, otherwise, the Managers or Coaches of the two Clubs shall agree on Referee(s) and Linesman (men). If they are unable to agree, they shall appoint a player from each side who shall act as Referee and Linesman; the player of the home Club acting as Referee and the player of the visiting Club as Linesman. If the regularly appointed officials appear during the progress of the game, they shall at once replace the temporary officials.

To paraphrase rule 32.6—If a linesman is unable to finish the game, the Referee can appoint another to replace him and if no replacement is available the two Referees will assist the remaining Linesman with his duties in addition to retaining their ability to assess penalties.

While you might think it bizarre to appoint a player from each team to act as replacement officials it actually did occur in an NHL game. On January 15, 1983, tough guy Gary Howatt (as a member of the New Jersey Devils) and Mickey Vocan (as a member of the Hartford Whalers) became the only active players to officiate an NHL game as linesmen when a snowstorm prevented a referee and linesman from reaching the Hartford Civic Center for a game between the Whalers and Devils. The lone NHL Linesman who made it through the storm acted as the Referee in the game.

Another unprecedented assignment of replacement game officials which I wrote about extensively in my book, The Final Call, occurred during the 1987-88 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 4 of the Wales Conference final between the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils. In the aftermath of Jim Scheonfeld's one-game suspension resulting from his infamous "doughnut" line shouted to Referee Don Koharski following Game 3, Referee Dave Newell (President of the NHL Officials Association) refused to take the ice when the Coach was granted an injunction by Judge James F. Madden of the New Jersey Superior Court 40 minutes before the game.

The game was delayed for over an hour as Director of Officiating, John McCauley (Ref Wes McCauley's father) pleaded with Newell to work the game. When McCauley's efforts to broker a truce failed the off-ice crew was pressed into service as replacement officials. Devils goal judges Paul McInnis and Vin Godleski served as referee and linesman, respectively, while Jim Sullivan from the NY Islanders crew worked as the second linesman. They officiated while wearing bright yellow practice jerseys.

Jake, it appears that the Australian League uses one Referee and two Linesmen. When we worked under that system there were several times we were forced to finish the game with just two Officials on the ice due to injury. One Saturday night in the Montreal Forum Linseman Ron "The Bear" Asselstine and I worked two full periods when Wayne Forsey blew a groin at the end of the first period. It was a tough game and Hall of Fame defenceman and class act, Larry Robinson was quoted by Red Fischer in the Montreal Gazette as suggesting the First Stars of the game were Fraser and Asselstine for such a fine job while 'playing' a man short!

Finally I have to provide details of an incident that demonstrates Los Angeles Kings Coach Darryl Sutter's intensity and focus on winning. He was behind the Chicago bench as the Hawks played host to Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and the Pittsburgh Penguins in an afternoon game televised on ESPN. The Hawks were on the power-play midway through the third period with the game tied when Tony Amonte deflected a puck up into my face. The puck broke my nose, fractured my tooth and cut my upper lip.


As I stopped play blood from the cut sprayed out of my whistle. The game couldn't continue until I received some quick repairs. I approached Coach Sutter at the Hawk bench and advised him that the game would be suspended until I was stitched up. With a look of frustration on his face Sutter rubbed his chin and said, "Holy 'F' Kerry, hurry up and get back, we're pressin'!"

The Hawks doctor put seven quick stitches in my lip to close up the cut and I finished the game blowing the whistle out of the side of my mouth.

The show must go on!

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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