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My question to you is what is the going through a referee's mind when a missed call or a wrong call results in a game winning goal? I refer back to last week's game involving Edmonton and Toronto. There was a clear mistake made by the officials in overtime against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that resulted a turnover and a 3-on-1 break and a game-winning goal for Toronto. I am sure that the referees knew that they had messed up and would certainly have known after the fact. I am sure that during your career that must have occurred at least once. My question is how do you feel after and do you apologize for the error?
I messed up more than once during my career for sure; the most obvious being Wayne Gretzky's missed high-stick on Doug Gilmour in 1993. A referee never wants to affect the outcome of a game. That infamous missed call certainly affected the outcome of Game 6 of that Western Conference Final when Gretz scored the winning goal in OT immediately after play resumed. Instead, he should have been sitting in the penalty box with a double minor. The teams would have played 4-on-4 until Glenn Anderson served the balance of his boarding penalty. The Leafs would have then gone on the power play "if" neither team had scored to end the game at that point. We know one thing for certain; Wayne Gretzky would not have scored the winner for at least four minutes!
Tremendous uncertainty surrounded the aftermath of the missed infraction. When I asked "Killer" what had happened he said that Wayne's follow-through of his shot struck him on the chin. I responded, "If that's the case a normal follow-through of a shot does not constitute a penalty!" Gilmour was okay with that understanding.
Something just didn't sit right with me so I sought assistance from my two colleagues. Neither of the linesmen (Kevin Collins and Ron Finn) was able to confirm the high-stick which left me with a totally helpless feeling of uncertainty. My desire as the sole Referee in a game was to see everything. In this situation I had failed my objective miserably. It wasn't until the next day however, when I saw a replay of the incident that I became aware of the missed call. As a result, the sick feeling an official gets in the pit of their gut when they mess up wasn't instantaneous but delayed for 24 hours.
That sick feeling didn't subside any time soon as I watched Gretzky light it up back in Toronto to eliminate the Leafs in Game 7. While the memory of the incident could never really be erased (nor should it) I had to learn from it and move forward no differently than a player mistake costs his team a game, a series or even a Stanley Cup. Rookie Steve Smith's errant bank shot off the back of Grant Fuhr's leg comes to mind. To his credit and personal strength Smitty bounced back and had a tremendous NHL career. One play or one call should not define a career.
There were other times that I knew in the moment that I had blown a call. If I overreacted by signaling a 'phantom/marginal' penalty I wanted to chew my arm off during the delay. At times such as this I instantly knew it was a bad call as much as the player I was sending to the box. Whenever the team captain approached me in protest of the bad call I would admit my mistake immediately. Inevitably the Captain's next response was, "You owe us one" or "Better make one up!" While I would respond that "Two wrongs don't make a right" the most difficult challenge was always to fight human nature when you know you erred. I did my very best not to do that very thing - make the dreaded makeup call.
I will tell you there were many times that I silently rooted for the success of a team's PK unit. Two minutes can seem like an eternity when your mouth feels like it's full of dry sawdust. If the team was scored upon that sick-gut feeling intensified but had to be pushed aside but remaining ever hopeful through the ebb and flow the game would be clearly decided by the players.
When an error has been made it is really important to bear down and keep your head in the moment and not dwell on the past mistake. You have to push negative thoughts out and allow them to pass through as opposed to dwelling on them. Sometimes that takes self-talk; almost in a running play-by-play dialogue to maintain focus and avoid missing yet another call.
What I am attempting to share with you here is not only the reality of human failure (mistakes made) which we all know happen but more importantly how we respond in dealing with that failure through our individual human nature. Every Official truly cares about the game and gives their very best. Their desire for perfection is an impossible task to achieve yet every Official chases that illusive "perfect game." The most respected and proficient Referees are the ones that minimize their mistakes, admit to them when they occur but most importantly learn from them and move forward.
There are always calls throughout a game, a season or a career that every Official wishes he had the opportunity to do over again. Perhaps the Refs in the Leafs-Oilers game would like another shot at viewing and responding as Cody Franson punched Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the ice from behind in overtime resulting in a three-on-one and Dave Bolland's winning goal. I'll leave that call for them to wrestle with and perhaps learn from.
Thanks for the thought-provoking question Chuck. Know that we can't alter history - just our response in the present.