Fraser: Remembering my own 'in-person hearing'

Kerry Fraser
10/17/2013 12:45:56 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,
I have a question regarding the "in-person hearings." The public is only ever told that a player has been "offered an in-person hearing", and rarely is the actual process discussed. I was wondering, what actually happens during one of these hearings? How much dialogue is there between the player and the NHL officials? From an outsider's perspective, it seems like the league has its mind made up, but has to invite the player simply because they want to issue a suspension longer than 5 games. Any insight into these closed-door meetings would be interesting to hear! Thanks!
Ryan Steeves
Ottawa, ON
Hi Kerry,
Max Lapierre on Dan Boyle - Obviously, that garbage has no place in the NHL.
The ensuing fights, hits (Brent Burns for instance) and the injury - clearly someone needs to put their foot down.
My question is - did the officials on the ice handle that properly? How many games does he sit?
Sadly, I'm not sure if Brendan Shanahan will give a stiff enough penalty to Lapierre and it could allow dirty players to continue doing this with a 'fair trade-off' in their minds. That being said - my last question: Has the NHL ever asked you to head up the Department of Player Safety and would you (though I would be sad to see it since this column would have to go away)?
Always hated it when you were the ref since you actually called the rules by the book and actually did a good job! I would love to see you in that position - I feel a former referee plus players advising is more appropriate way to structure that department.
Cheers (and thanks for always doing a great job as a Ref),
Zach Karabat
Ryan and Zach:

Thank you for your questions.

Zach, you can bet the farm that I won't be included as a member of the Player Safety Committee let alone heading the department so have no fear, you'll be able to keep reading C'mon Ref!

Likewise, Ryan it would be totally inappropriate for me to speculate on what takes place through the discipline process that Brandan Shanahan's office is responsible for; either through a telephone interview with the player or by invitation of an in-person hearing.  What I can share with you however is a firsthand account of player hearings that I was required to attend.

The format of player hearings changed a number of years ago when Brian Burke became the Vice President of Hockey Operations. Burkie was not only a lawyer but as a former General Manager and good hockey man determined that hearings could often be conducted by telephone for convenience/cost without the physical presence of the player or the Referee who called the penalty.

When I began my NHL officiating career Clarence Campbell was the league president. Mr. Campbell was a Rhodes Scholar and a lawyer similarly to all his successors that have held the position, including current Commissioner Gary Bettman. Mr. Campbell was also part of the Canadian Army prosecution team at the Nuremburg trial of Nazi war criminals.

The reason I mention this is because Mr. Campbell was a stickler for detailed report writing. He and his designee, Vice President Brian O'Neill (responsible for supplementary discipline) insisted on the Officials writing independent detailed reports when game misconducts and match penalties were assessed in the event a player hearing was required. The Referee was always compelled to attend the hearing to provide evidence and be questioned on his report. The hearing was the players "day in court" and he and often appeared with his team General Manager. They were able to plead their case and speak on the charges levied against him. Unlike today, some games might not have been televised and no footage was available of the incident so the Referees report became a very important component in the proceedings.

In most hearings the player attempted to diminish what had taken place and lay blame to his opponent or even the Referee. I have also seen situations where the player showed true remorse and appealed to the goodness and mercy of the court. I want to share the bizarre details of one hearing I attended just to give you a glimpse of how creative a player's line defence can be.
On March 23, 1983, I assessed a match penalty to Dave "Tiger" Williams of the Vancouver Canucks for breaking his stick on the back of Washington Cap defenceman Randy Holt's head. Tiger used the fact that the game was not televised to his advantage in the emergency hearing that was called by Brian O'Neill. It was the best defense I ever heard in a hearing.

Going into the game in the Cap Center Randy Holt, trailed Tiger by a couple of penalty minutes for the league lead in that department. Patrik Sundstrom, a skilled rookie, bumped into Holt in the corner by accident. The Caps tough guy threw down his gloves and started pummeling the Swede. I was close by and witnessed Tiger charging from the blue line with his stick held in a cross-check position straight for Holt who was facing the end boards and doing a number of 'Sunny.' I stepped in front of Williams and like a crossing guard held my hand out signaling - Stop! There was stopping 'Tiger' and I stepped aside as Williams shattered his stick shaft on the back of Randy Holt's helmetless head!

The next day at the hearing in the Toronto office, Brian O'Neill read my report (no video remember) and asked Tiger if he had anything if he had anything to say in his defence. For the next 15 minutes, Tiger talked about hunting grizzly bears with a bow and arrow and turning them into rugs. The essence of his defence was that he only got one shot at a charging 'grizz' and had to make it a kill shot; that's why he only uses "aluminum arrows" - kills 'em dead!

For that very reason it's why Tiger said he used a "wooden" hockey stick because they break real easy unlike aluminum. If he had hit Holt with even the slightest force using an aluminum stick he wouldn't have gotten up! Tiger then used me as his defence witness by referring to my report which said Holt did not fall down after being struck my Williams stick.

We walked out of that hearing and I said, "Tiger, that's the biggest load of horse---- I have ever seen shoveled at one time." With a big grin on his face he replied, "You know, I think he went for it. I couldn't believe Holt didn't go down, because I really hammered him." The only punishment Tiger Williams drew was an automatic two-game suspension that came with accumulating game misconducts. Tiger was a character as well as a big-game hunter.

The Referees assessed the correct penalty to Maxim Lapierre (major for check from behind and game misconduct) and the player's fate is now in the hands of the Player Safety Committee.

I know one thing for sure - Maxim Lapierre, Brent Burns and all the other players leveling dangerous hits on their opponents aren't hunting grizzlies! This recklessness has to stop...

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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