Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I really enjoy your take on some of the questionable plays/calls/non-calls. I thought I would try and lighten it up a little with a request for you to share a truly funny or odd moment that you may have had while the players were lining up at the dot. There have been a couple of brief interchanges recently that made me think of this, the latest being at about 12:23 of the first in the Hawks/Kings game on Monday. With all the games you have done, there must be a few. Care to share any?
The camera often catches intense debates between players or coaches and the officials but misses the lighter, humorous side that helps to bring the temperature down and build healthy professional working relationships. I learned early in my career that the use of humor, when appropriate (especially self-deprecating), had its place on the ice.
Early in my very first season as a referee, I had a game where the home team was getting soundly trounced and their frustration was continuously being directed at me. I responded with multiple misconduct penalties and, toward the end of the game, players were sitting three deep in the penalty box. Following another goal that took the score in double digits, the coach sent his captain over to have a word with me. Very politely the captain asked, "Mr. Referee, my coach wants to know if he can get a penalty for thinking?" I said, "Probably not if he doesn't think out loud." The captain then said, "In that case, my coach thinks you are a F-ing A-hole!" I not only found the coaches comment to be creative but very funny and I began to laugh. The stern look on the face of the coach changed to a grin and then he began to laugh as well. The humor we shared in that moment, albeit at my expense, broke the ice and taught me a valuable lesson that would serve me throughout my career.
In the early 1980's, I was the first referee to wear a wireless microphone during a game at MSG between the Minnesota North Stars and the Rangers. The microphone was left open throughout the entire game so it brought the television audience directly to the action on the ice with uncensored comments. We had several dust-ups throughout the game where my 'mic' caught all the pleasantries that were being exchanged between players. Willi Plett tried to club Don Maloney of the Rangers in once such scrum and caught me on the bridge of my nose with his glove. After Plett served his penalty, he approached me at a stoppage of play and asked, "Is this your worst game of the season?" I shot back with a smile, "No, they're all about this caliber." Plett looked dumbfounded and shook his head while skating away.
At times, I tried to council rookie officials not to take themselves so seriously in an effort to solicit player cooperation and earn respect. In 1988, my friend and colleague, linesman Pierre Champoux signed an NHL contract. Pierre quickly developed into an excellent linesman but in the beginning of his career, he did not have a very good command of the English language to put it mildly. We left training camp together that September and headed out West to work exhibition games and to work on Pierre's English language skills. One of our early assignments was in Los Angeles and the rookie linesman wanted to establish his full control in the faceoff circle. Bernie Nicholls entered Pierre's domain late in the first period to take the draw. In what Nicholls correctly perceived as an aggressive tone and animated gesture, the linesman commanded Nichols with, "You, put your stick down!" Bernie straightened up, cussed at Champoux by questioning who the "F" the rookie thought he was talking to? Nicholls was immediately ejected from the faceoff with a quick jerk of the linesman's thumb followed by, "You, out!" I skated over and told Nicholls to relax as a replacement entered the faceoff circle.
Between periods, I conveyed the importance of quickly developing a good working relationship with all the players to gain respect and solicit their cooperation. I acted out a role-play to demonstrate the linesman's command to Nicholls that wasn't well received; followed by a polite approach I always used by requesting the centres to "please put your sticks down." It was obvious to Pierre which method would be better received by a player in the future. I finished by commenting if Pierre still received a hostile comment from a player following his polite request to follow with a lighter approach by saying, "Why are you so grumpy, did someone piss on your cornflakes this morning?" Pierre said I like 'dat' and he couldn't wait to get on the ice to try his new techniques in the faceoff circle; especially the cornflakes line as it turned out. As the centres arrived for the faceoff, Pierre still had a bit of an edge to his tone when he commanded, "You, put your stick down 'please'." Getting some resistance from the player, my rookie student responded immediately with, "Put your stick down or I will piss on your corn-flake!" Something got lost in the translation. Champoux quickly developed a command of the English language and continues to be recognized by the players as a highly respected linesman in the NHL. Pierre also enjoys his bowl of cornflakes in the morning with low-fat milk.