Dear Stripes: Mind Your Damn Business

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I’d like to start with a disclaimer. The direct inspiration for the following diatribe is not Red Wings-related, although there is enough to bitch about when it comes to the officiating in the Red Wings/Sharks series (for a second year in a row). No, the instance that sent my poor brain over the edge occurred in Tuesday night’s Game 3 between the Canucks and Predators: an emotional, exciting hockey game completely ruined by a whistle that — as early as five years ago — would have made Osama Bin Laden cringe.

Tied at two in Nashville, the top-seeded Canucks were reeling in overtime. The Predators had all the best chances, all the best follow-through, all the poise. There’d be an occasional Canuck shot on goal, but it would quickly transition into a full-blown scoring opportunity for the Predators. That is, until the midway point of the period, when Predators captain (and badass penalty killer) Shea Weber was called for hooking. Veteran of 700 NHL games Shjon Podein even chimed in via Twitter.

Back in the day… and I don’t mean the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, I mean relatively recently… you had to murder someone to get called in overtime of a playoff game. It was kind of an unwritten understanding between players and officials that the men playing the game would be allowed to police themselves a little bit more than usual, and they would absolutely take advantage of that freedom — clutching a bit more, tugging on a jersey, slashing down on a stick with a tiny bit more force. By all accounts, pushing the limits of cheating. As the old adage goes, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.

Everyone on Earth loved overtime in the playoffs. Everyone, it would seem, but the stripes.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Everyone knows that the officiating in our League is spotty and inconsistent AT BEST. And you can point the finger all the way to the top of the mountain, where sometimes a hit from behind is a ten-game suspension, and other times it’s not even a minor penalty. There’s no accountability and the referees and linesmen have been given free reign to unleash their half-retarded brand of tyranny onto an unsuspecting and undeserving masses: those who play the game and those who love it.

Speaking as a former player, allow me to say that — despite the mutual respect that is clear — 100% of hockey players despise (and I mean, “to the core”) 100% of referees. It was clear to us by the time we turned nine or ten that the blind idiots we have reffing at any level are the spazzes that couldn’t play the game. Nowhere is that as evident as playing in the higher ranks of bantam, midget, and even college hockey. The guys wearing the whistles are approximately four months older than you, meaning that — HEY! — they probably weren’t as good at this game as you are, and they’re pissed off about it. After all, no nineteen year old strives to be the best referee in the whole wide world. Some of the kids I played with in college have ended up becoming referees and — SURPRISE! — they’re the ones that moaned about every play and sulked on the bench after them.

The genesis of the problem at the NHL level, I believe, was giving the referees microphones to speak to the audience in attendance and watching on television — often to explain why a goal was waved off or ultimately allowed. This was an idea that is beyond horrible because the only people that like to hear referees speaking are the referees themselves. If you’d like another example of this, please see: Circles, Faceoff. Have you ever — in your life — seen as many lectures coming from linesmen explaining whose stick goes where, when, and why he hasn’t the dropped the puck yet, all while pointing fingers and gyrating? Shut the fuck up and drop the goddamn puck. I promise you Henrik Zetterberg knows how to take a faceoff.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: if you’re in a position to be blaming the refs for a loss, you didn’t play well enough to deserve to win. Blind calls aside, you have to put yourself in a position to allow for errors and unfortunate bounces to truly say “hey, we won this game, regardless of all factors coming from third parties.” It’s certainly a game of inches and a bounce here or there could legitimately be the difference between a win and a loss. But if you take to the microphone after a game and say, “ya know what, if we weren’t called for that bogus interference penalty, we would have won,” you’re full of shit. Win the game DESPITE those things, don’t lose them BECAUSE of them.

I don’t envy the referees’ jobs. And, in the grand scheme of it, they get most of this stuff correct. A high-stick in an opponent’s face in overtime from a grinder that’s ax-handling his composite? Yeah, that’s automatic. That’s a call that has to be made, and 90% of the time, I’d think that the refs get ’em right. They don’t have the benefit of seeing it from fourteen angles in slow motion, they have to make calls from ice level when action is moving at 30 mph. The coaches don’t have a challenge (though, if I were a betting man, I’d say they will real soon) and the players whine all goddamn night. It’s a hard gig, no doubt about it.

But the other 10% of the time? We have chintzy “slashes,” and phantom tripping calls. I did worse on the sidewalk coming into the office this morning than some of the calls that have been made against the Sharks, Wings, Predators, and Canucks (and probably the Eastern Conference teams, too, but I can’t be bothered with JV Hockey at this time of year).

The long and the short of it is — the officials are given too much rope to affect the outcome of the contests. Again, teams shouldn’t put themselves in a position to be affected by the officiating, but the stripes are finding ways to inject themselves into it — and that’s bad. The fact that we know more than one official’s name is proof that they’re entering players’ and fans’ consciousness too much. They’re supposed to be blind justice, silent policemen that ensure the safety and integrity of the game. But each and every one of us could pick Dennis LaRue out of a lineup.

You know who loves knowing that? Dennis LaRue.

Example the second: Long-time NHL official Kerry Fraser (you know… the guy that retired a year after they started forcing refs to wear helmets… which he didn’t like because it might mess up his perfectly sculpted hair) is an analyst for TSN now, and I am SHOCKED about that. Never was there a bigger prick on the ice — with a dirty mouth, a massive ego, and a Napoleon complex — than Kerry Fraser. And he broke up Tie Domi/Bob Probert fights. And while it’s interesting to get another side of things, and read his take about certain aspects of officiating, I can’t get through a whole article of his without wanting to smash my head on a desk. And the same goes for other refereeing experts in other forms of new media “explaining” why a call was made or wasn’t — I didn’t want to hear it when I was on the ice and I don’t want to hear it now. We get it, you can quote the exact wording of Rule 31.5.b about where you must officially hypothesize a puck is when it’s obstructed by goaltending gear during the long-change of a shorthanded team on home ice on a Wednesday. The rest of us would rather get back to playing/watching than listening to you explain the minutae while you figure skate back and forth between the teams’ benches and the little hole in the glass on the other side of the ice, all while sucking the life out of the building and draining my will to live.

Shut up and let the players determine the momentum and the final score. This isn’t about you, no matter how hard you’d like it to be.

Stay tuned for another installment of Petrella Loses His Mind, tentatively titled “Snow Showers: Quit Being a Bitch.”

Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty