Fed Up with Officiating

May 15th, 2004

Now nobody I know wants to see the referees decide the outcome of a hockey game.

At least nobody I know who has an IQ greater than anyone who threw garbage out onto the ice in the last minute of regulation of game three. In other words anybody who is not an idiot.

And of those non-idiots not a single one of them wants a referee to decide the outcome of a playoff game especially one that involves the hometown Flames.

On a night when Calgary could have captured a stranglehold three games to none lead in the Western Final it was the refereeing or lack thereof that may have gone a long way to deciding the outcome of the match; a 3-0 win for the visiting Sharks.

A fan could overlook the first period guffaw by the men in stripes as Chris Simon was hauled down by his jersey on a strong foray into the Sharks zone and then ironically called for doing the very same thing at the end of a San Jose scrum at the opposite end of the ice just seconds later. Nobody's perfect. Even the missed interference calls that marked the play for much of the first two periods both for and against the men in red and black could be swept under the rug and passed off as part of the game.

But when the game is on the line in the dying minutes of the third period obvious penalties must be called. There is an official NHL rulebook for a reason. To make sure both teams play the game on equal footing, even-steven, without unfair advantage on either side; within the rules. Calls like the tripping penalty (sorry, make that non-penalty as it was not whistled down) as Craig Conroy wound up with a head of steam only to be greeted by a bright teal outstretched leg before even exiting his own zone. This did not happen in the corner, behind the net or any other somewhat crowded can't-quite-see-the-play area of the ice. It happened in plain view, out in the open for all 40,000 eyes in the arena to witness unfortunately not including those belonging to of Mr. Marouelli or Mr. Watson. Even the owner of the leg in question knew it was a penalty as the look of terror across his face exclaimed after glancing frantically at the black and white bystanders sporting whistles. Not since I lost a game Clue to my 12-year-old niece have I been more astonished. As it was then Mr. Ricci, with the leg, in the Flames zone.

It is obvious that missed calls will happen then, but the biggest crime at the scene was not a muted whistle or silent Sam…I mean Dan. It was the actual creation and fabrication of an infraction. I scoured through the pages of my rulebook and could not find the 'two minutes for getting punched in the head minor' that Chris Clark took at 16:53 of the third as Scott Thornton threw 3 solid rights into the side of his helmet as he hunched on all fours in front of the Sharks crease. Clark had taken an extra swipe at the puck in front of the net and connected solidly with Nabokov, but the play was not dead and the puck not fully contained.

I am in no way trying to take anything away from the excellent game that San Jose played or add anything to the game that Calgary didn't play. It would be irresponsible and outright wrong to claim that had these calls been made or not made in the case of the two minute punching bag infraction, that the outcome of the game would have changed, that the Flames would have won, or for that matter even scored a goal, that is not the point. The point is that the men working the game, keeping the peace, enforcing the rules and there to do just that and they didn't. The Sharks got away with one or two major hockey illegalities that may have very well affected the outcome of an extremely tight hard-fought hockey game. I understand the code in the league that dictates the rules are slightly different in the last few minutes of a third period, that marginal calls are not made. These were not marginal calls.

On my way home from work I can't redline my sports package Gremlin and speed without disregard for the law just because I'm only two minutes away from my driveway. I can't go into Safeway and steal my groceries just because the store is almost closing. So why should one team be able to blatantly break the rules at the end of a game with such importance and not be penalized?

Nobody I know wants to see a game decided by the refs and quite frankly neither does any referee I've ever know, but looking at game three one can make a very strong case that the end result had fingerprints all over it.

In the meantime, I'll be watching game four from my holding cell - apparently you can't make off with a new mattress just because the furniture store is going out of business either.

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