Fraser: Like players, officials energized as playoffs begin

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Kerry Fraser
4/30/2013 2:23:54 PM
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Congratulations are extended to the NHL Officials that have been selected to work the first round of the 2012-13 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are as follows:

Referees: Paul Devorski, Eric Furlatt, Marc Joannette, Greg Kimmerly, Tom Kowal, Steve Kozari, Mike Leggo, Chris Lee, Wes McCauley, Brad Myer, Dan O'Halloran, Dan O'Rourke, Tim Peel, Brian Pochmara, Kevin Pollack, Chris Rooney, Kelly Sutherland, Francois St-Laurent, Brad Watson, Stephen Walkom Standby: Gord Dwyer & Frederick L'Ecuyer

Linesmen: Derek Amell, Steve Barton, David Brisbois, Lonnie Cameron, Scott Cherrey, Greg Devorski, Scott Driscoll, Darren Gibbs (*first-time selection), Don Henderson, Shane Heyer, Brad Kovachik, Brad Lazarowich, Steve Miller, Jean Morin, Brian Murphy, Jonny Murray, Tim Nowak, Pierre Racicot, Jay Sharrers, Mark Wheler

Special congratulations go out to Linesman Darren Gibbs who will be working the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. Additionally Linesman Don Henderson and Referee Greg Kimmerly are returning selections to the Playoff rotation.

The Officials, no differently than the players, are energized as they enter the playoffs. It is a new season that can ultimately lead to a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. The Officials worked many intense games down the stretch as the teams battled for position and a ticket to the post-season dance. In spite of this the increased intensity of play and media attention in the playoffs place added pressure on the Officials. Here are some thoughts from my experience as to what the Officials can expect and the best way to prepare themselves.

An Officiating Manager is assigned to each series to act as the Supervisor. His job is to act as the League liaison with the Coaches and General Managers, to prepare and update the Referees and Linesmen assigned to work each game and to deal with the media when necessary. Prior to each game the Supervisor will conduct a Noon meeting at the designated hotel with the Refs and Linesmen. He will attend to administrative matters (travel, assignments, ticket requirements) but most importantly update them with information with a game-to-game progression of the series.

Information and stats will be presented from previous meetings between the two clubs over the regular season and any "hotspots" that might resurface as the series progresses. Player matchups can be discussed and the resulting need to control the line changes and watch for "too many men" when teams change on the fly.

Individual player tendencies can be discussed relative to known crease crashers, those that finish checks long, late and high, diving, inciting/scrums, snowing the goalkeeper and other acts of unsportsmanlike conduct. The Refs can (and will) prepare their own mental list of players that have demonstrated a tendency to dive/embellish but given the increased stakes in the playoffs every player is capable of attempting to draw a penalty through embellishment. This intensifies the requirement for the Refs to put themselves in the best position to determine and react to legitimate fouls and above all not to guess on a play.

The most difficult call for a Referee to make is determining goalkeeper interference when a goal results. This play cannot be determined through video review. As a result the Officiating Department is encouraging the four Officials to conference so that each member of the team can provide input from his vantage point. You might see initial calls made on the goal line reversed through this safety check. The same will apply when a puck is shot over the glass by a defending player from his defending zone.

Maintaining the expected standard of enforcement will be discussed along with the need to determine dangerous hits. Every game has a "heartbeat" and a pulse which rises and falls. The Referee must prepare himself mentally and emotionally to allow the game to be played "on the edge" without killing the heartbeat by overreacting and making a marginal call.

The other side of the coin is when a penalty is let go (usually later in the game) resulting in a major adjustment to the previous standard. When that occurs the natural tendency is for the Ref to attempt to manage the game by letting something go from the other side. This creates a slippery slope since the second foul is usually worse than the first and it becomes difficult for the Referee(s) to pick an infraction to put the brakes on this runaway train. The remedy for this is to call the infractions from start to finish regardless of the score or time of the game.

Maintaining a state of emotional control throughout the day and the entire game allows the best opportunity for the Official to remain focused and in the moment to make good decisions when player tensions rise. My best lesson in dealing with playoff pressure came as a result of being assigned to Game 7 between Montreal and Quebec in the Battle of Quebec in 1985. It was only my third year of being selected to the Playoffs and first time to have a game of this magnitude.

There was no place to hide other than in my hotel room once I landed at Dorval Airport in Montreal the day before the game. Fan and media attention was inescapable; so much so that I even turned off the television in my room. I tucked into bed early and declined an invitation for a nightcap from future Hall of Fame Linesmen Ray Scapinello and John D'Amico.

I awoke in the morning with an itchy sensation as though bugs were crawling all over my body. Upon inspection I was covered in big red welts from neck to toe; everywhere except my face and hands. These hives were clearly a case of bad nerves as I got caught up in the emotion of this game! The last thing I was going to do was show my colleagues the evidence so after lunch I told John and Ray that I would see them at the Forum since I was going over early to get some 'equipment' attended to. I wanted to be dressed in my long underwear when they arrived at the rink so they wouldn't detect my red welts and nervousness.

Once the puck dropped I forgot all about the pressure I was feeling and the game went very well from an officiating perspective. Peter Stastny scored the winning goal in overtime for a Nordique victory. I went on to be selected to work the Stanley Cup Final that year for the first of the 12 times I worked them. The Oilers defeated the Flyers that year in five games as I worked games two and four.

The lesson I learned about controlling my emotions from Game 7 in Montreal proved invaluable as I marched forward through my career. From that game on I maintained a balance between readiness and emotional control. 

I wish the Officials the very best of luck starting with the opening puck drop until the Stanley Cup is presented.

Stephen Walkom (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
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