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It was listed as one of the “Ten Worst Referee Blunders in History”, the only one gleaned from Canada’s National Sport. One shinny scribe called it the “non goal of the year”! The reference is to Brett Hull’s game-winning overtime marker on June 19/20, 1999, which gave the Dallas Stars their first and only Stanley Cup Championship.
Videos are still available on You Tube, enabling both the curious and the cantankerous to take a rather hasty glance at the “Golden Brett”, with one foot in the goal crease, salting away game six in the quest for shinny’s silver chalice.
One journalist acknowledged that not only were the Sabres ripped off, but the glory was also stolen from the Stars because it was an “illegal tally”. In all fairness to Bill McCreary, (whom many swear initially waved the goal off) in charge of that match, it was the whole NHL officiating system which afforded this “non call” to stick. While the PA announcer blared that the “goal was under review”, the Texas tribe were already milling about congratulating one another, and the press swarmed onto the ice to get their piece of the action. Could any sane-thinking whistle-tooter dare hope to return that chaos to order? In a parting shot, said writer maintained the “title was tainted” and the league’s integrity was painted with the same brush.
Blunders of this kind—or worse—are a part of this sport’s lore.
One need only back up to last June, to game two of the Rangers/King’s battle for Lord’s Stanley’s ancient mug. Los Angeles’ third marker, which brought them within one of tying the New Yorkers (who were ahead 4-2 at the time), was surrounded with controversy—especially as far as Henrik Lundqvist was concerned. With two striped jerseys standing ten feet away, the Blueshirt’s backstop griped: “He (Dwight King) scored and I couldn’t move—and the video tape proved it! It was a ‘non call’….it’s frustrating….the most important play of the game!”
As the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons observed: “Overtime may not have been necessary if the King’s goal had been disallowed!”
Earlier in the play-downs—in game seven to be precise—the Avalanche’s Jamie McGinn “obliterated the Wild’s goalie, Darcy Kuemper”, and teammate Holden fired the disc behind the helpless cage cop.
In a regular season match, four officials must have been blinded by the TV lights, because Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall watched as his high shot sailed into the protective netting above the end boards, bounced back, hit Jonathan Quick’s back, and dribbled into the cage. Of course the play should have been blown dead on the spot!
Every decade has contributed to records of faux pas of this kind. It is superfluous to consider the pay-for-play scene in its fledgling years—because non calls were as common as skates, sticks, and pucks during on-ice action. The violence which prevailed in those early pro seasons make the thuggery sometimes evident in today’s game seem like seem like battling with wet noodles in comparison. Skaters carried off on stretchers after being clubbed over the head by opponents was common fare.
Just one example comes from the pages of the Montreal Star in 1907: “Baldy Spittal deliberately tried to split Blachford’s skull by bringing down his hockey stick upon it with all his force using both hands…. Alf Smith skated across the ice and hit Hod Stuart across the temple with his stick, laying him out like a corpse...Harry Smith was credited with cracking Ernie Johnson across the face with his stick, breaking his nose!”
But even during the “Original 8” era (when Montreal Maroons and New York Americans were still part of the brotherhood) and the eventual “Original 6” time frame, when a more disciplined approach prevailed, many obvious fouls were seemingly ignored by the arbitrators in charge.
For instance, back in December of 1936, a formal protest was filed with President Frank Calder by the American’s manager, Red Dutton. “I think that referee Clarence Campbell (well what do you know) made a serious error in not inflicting a misconduct penalty on Eddie Shore for charging Eddie Wiseman after the whistle had blown!”
Apparently he had objected to the latter’s clipping Cooney Weiland on the head with his stick. Further, he griped that referee Ag Smith faced the puck and started play while Bruin’s manager Art Ross was still on the ice conversing with Campbell.
In 1941 Marc T. McNeil of the Montreal Gazette highlighted the state of NHL officiating by summing it up this way: “The refereeing is terrible!” While he dealt with the overall shortfall in controlling on-ice action, he zeroed in on a recent Montreal/Detroit tilt. “Of course (Mickey) Ion let the usual amount of interference and holding go; Canadien players were being “tackled” right under his eyes and he did nothing about it. Jimmy Orlando was wrapping his arms around the Habitants all night, but that brought no action from Ion.” A glance at the game report affirms the irritating Orlando failed to serve a single minute in the sin-bin.
The initial meeting of the Bruins and the Habs in 1940-41 season got off to a rousing start. In a tongue-in-cheek chronicle of the “main event”, one shinny journalist suggested that to spare oneself the usual consequences, Canadien players who feel the urge to make nasty comments to referees in the future, should count to ten—then say it in French. This all stemmed from a non-call by master of the puck piccolo, Bill Stewart. It seems that veteran Dit Clapper welcomed rookie Elmer Lach to the NHL fraternity by cutting him down—and getting away with it. Red Goupille sought to set things straight by calling the senior official “a blind, bald-headed so-and-so” the next time he skated near the Montreal bench. He made the mistake of forsaking his native tongue and expressing it in English!
A milestone in the storied career of Maurice Richard was reached on February 25, 1945. On that occasion the “Rocket” tallied his 45th marker of the season, breaking the record set by Joe Malone in 1918. He did it in the flamboyant fashion so typical of his goal-scoring feats. He carried (Nick) Metz and Davidson on his back as he bore in on McCool and fired it into the twine. Another highly-regarded moderator, King Clancy, was in charge of the rules and regulations that night—but he let that glaring foul go unpunished.
That same season those same Montrealers were hosted by the Blackhawks, a game during which the Windy City fans erupted in protest at gross failure of Bill Chadwick to punish an offender. The demonstration was touched off when Elmer Lach jammed George Allen against the boards and held him there while a teammate stole the puck and scored.
Strangely enough he tells this story on himself. During the 1952 post season the Habs were pitted against the Beantown Six. In the course of the action Doug Harvey slashed Doug Mohns. “It was clearly a penalty and I saw it right away!” confessed Big Bill.
Up went my arm to signal the infraction—and then the darndest thing happened. I blew the whistle while Boston still had the puck. At that precise moment Mohns tucked the puck under Plante. I had cost the Bruins a goal—a costly one since they lost by one goal.”
Although he was considered one of the best in the business, the “Big Whistle”’s name keeps springing up when there are instances of officiating temporary blindness—partly due to the fact that he probably refereed more contests than his contemporaries.
He was one of Chicago organist Al Melgard’s targets as he would strike up the old ditty “Three Blind Mice” when the officials skated onto the playing surface.
During an interview in 1974 he admitted that he became a referee “because of an eye situation”. He was the only hockey adjudicator to admit to being blind—in one eye, that is. During a Junior game in 1935 he was hit in the right eye with the puck, costing him the sight on that eye. Two years later he was hit in OTHER eye, temporarily blinding him. Fortunately he regained sight in that peeper—so he became a referee.
On March 3, 1951 when the Red Wings were dominating the circuit, and Montreal was struggling a bit, tempers flared, and penalties were common during the head-to-head battle that night. The consensus by both players and fans was that the match was poorly-officiated. The “proof of the pudding” came in the third frame when “Rocket” Richard made one of his typical dashes for the net, and was tripped and cut between the eyes. Referee Hugh McLean totally ignored the foul, which, of course, ticked the Hab’s right winger to know end. He was so incensed that the violation had been overlooked that he chased the official, showcasing his bleeding beano, and becoming abusive. The result was a misconduct, and then a game misconduct. A sharper eye and a well-oiled whistle would have prevented this kafuffle.
Dave Newell was another official who chose to be candid about the pressure-filled vocation he had chosen. Sharing his experiences with Washington scribe Robert Fachet, he revealed that he can’t sleep the day of the game—and sometimes the nights after the game. The reason for the latter came to light as he reminisced about a grave mistake in the 1974 playoffs in Atlanta, when the Flyers were the visitors. Although the red light had not flashed, he still ruled that Philadelphia had scored. What was worse, he admitted, is that he didn’t even confer with the goal judge. The instant replay proves he had made the wrong call.
In 1978 when Colorado was gasping for breathe in seeking to remain alive; referee Ron Wicks pulled a boner on March 16, during an Atlanta Flames/Rockies tilt. As rearguard Barry Beck started to carry the puck out of the mile high city’s own end he was clearly tripped. Tom Lysiak snatched up the loose puck, soon to have two teammates join him in the rush. Coach Pat Kelly griped: “They trip Barry and three guys walk in on our net alone. The result was a goal against Favell, and a 4-2 lead for the Flames.
In the 1993 post season, on May 20th, the Montreal Canadiens scored with too many men on the ice, giving them a 2-1 victory in game three. Referee Kerry Fraser gained the wrath of Islander’s bench boss, Al Arbour, who complained: “There are two sets of rules. One for the Montreal Canadiens and another for their opponents!”
The compendium of faux pas committed by one ice officials is huge. But undoubtedly there are three non calls which stand out as the most publicized. One has already been chronicled in this missive. But the first took place on April 4, 1959.
During the final match of the NHL semi-finals between Chicago and Montreal, two controversial alleged oversights on the part of referee Red Storey led to a hub bub in the public eye, among players, and at the highest level behind the scenes of the world’s premier shinny circuit. On two separate occasions Canadien players tripped Blackhawk skaters without penalties being called. The second apparent foul, if called, would have nullified the Hab’s winning counter at 18:32 of the final frame—a tally which sent the Windy City crew to the golf links for the summer.
Chicago’s bench boss. Rudy Pilous, demonstrated his disapproval with the “choke” sign. League President, Clarence Campbell publicly criticized his top referee by declaring that he “froze” instead of making the calls. Storey himself declared that in both cases the Hawk players took “dives”, prompting him to overlook the so-called “trips”. One scribe wrote that ice was soft and “even the officials were falling down”.
Not only because this concluded the series, allowing Canadiens to advance to the finals, but because the newspapers and other media wouldn’t let the issue die, Campbell’s indiscreet comments prompted Storey to resign. He maintained he made the right decision. He never blew a whistle in the NHL again!
If anything, a fooferaw which involved the one whom many claim is the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, ranks even higher in the game’s historical spotlight. Kerry Fraser, at least the most carefully groomed whistle tooter in recent memory, is still assaulted with criticism about his self-proclaimed “worst mistake” of his illustrious refereeing stint.
It took place on May 27th, 1993. The Maple Leafs were leading the series against Los Angeles 3 games to 2. That night, they trailed the Kings late in the game, when Wendell Clarke scored with the goalie pulled to tie the match. Then it happened. “The Great One” clipped Doug Gilmour in the face and, though blood oozed from his face, no penalty was called. He then had the audacity to score the winning tally to tie the series, following up being the hero in the deciding game which eliminated Toronto from the post season.
A postscript to that tale reveals that some yahoo from Kitchener drove to Fraser’s parent’s home and began ramming their small motor home in retaliation.
Back in the 1940’s NHL President Frank Calder assigned three of hockey’s responsible authorities on the game to check officiating at three different games. They reported that over the course of the 180 minutes, 94 errors had been noted. The problem was, the three could only agree on single one of that grand total of errors. Very revealing indeed!
Over the years some of the most respected referees called upon to make split second decisions in the “world’s fastest game”, have admitted they blew it on numerous occasions. But Mike Brophy recently penned these discerning words: “Occasionally incorrect calls are made which affect the outcome of games. But why are officials held to a higher standard than players and coaches? Does a player always pass when they should pass and shoot when they should shoot? Does a coach always have the right players on the ice?”
The fact remains—referees are only human. Competent most of the time? For sure! But infallible? Not in this lifetime!
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