Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser – whose work on TSN I thoroughly enjoy – was asked a question in his column about the no-call on James Neal (for his hit on Sean Couturier) and other Penguins for their general jackassery. Fraser responded brilliantly. Really, the man (an author) is a wordsmith. Read this: [it’s a long excerpt, but it really needs some attention… I would recommend you read the rest of the post too, because it’s very good]
"The absence of a swift and firm response by the referees to Sidney Crosby's repeated slash to the glove hand of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov prior to the fisticuffs became an officiating turning point in the game. This spark ignited the ever-present combustible fuel that exists when these two teams meet and caused player hostilities to boil over and continue throughout most of the game. The officials had to continually battle back from this early incident in an
attempt to exert and maintain control.
Every game has an ebb and flow; a heartbeat and a temperature that rises and falls throughout. This is especially true in a playoff series when player aggression and "hatred" (perceived or stated) escalates. It is incumbent upon the referees to know when to impose themselves to control the temperature of the game through appropriate application of the rules. The "when" and "how" results from an acute feel for the game.
Action in an around the goal crease, contact with the goalie and dangerous or high hits are always "hot spots" that draw a crowd resulting in scrums and should always be high on the ref's radar screen.
Once Crosby swatted at the glove hand of Bryzgalov as the play was blown dead, Voracek led the cavalry charge and wrestled with Crosby. This was the perfect opportunity for the referee(s) to impose themselves and establish game control. A swift and forceful reaction by the referee behind the goal line to impose a slashing and roughing minor to Crosby in addition to a roughing minor to the Flyers' Voracek would have ended the incident in this moment. The linesmen would have escorted the two players to the penalty box swiftly and nothing further would have developed at that point and time. A Flyers power play would have also sent an early message to avoid contact with the goalkeepers at both ends of the ice.
Due to a lack of response by the referees on this initial incident, tornados of player hostility were allowed to spawn elsewhere which resulted in two fights and game ejections to key players from both teams a minute or two later. The stage was set and the match was lit for what followed."
– stands up, claps, whistles, “nice hair!” –
Well done, Kerry Fraser. Well done.
There are a few interesting things to note here:
1) Fraser very obviously believes that officials allowed the initial scrum to get entirely out-of-control. That led to Crosby pulling off the Menstrual Cycle (as we detailed here), Timonen getting his ass beat, and set the stage for the rest of the game.
2) Rarely, if ever, will you see officials admit to what we all already know– that they interpret rules differently based on a feel for the game. When Fraser writes “it is incumbent upon the referees to know when to impose themselves to control the temperature of the game through appropriate application of the rules. The when and how results from an acute feel for the game,” he is saying that depending on circumstance, calls should or shouldn’t be made. It’s an age-old sports debate (do refs put away the whistle at times?), but rarely has it been described so eloquently.
3) The phrase “tornados of player hostility” may have to be mandated for every playoff game recap. That’s just excellent.
Read Fraser’s full response to the question about Neal not receiving a penalty here.