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NHL Refereeing: Learn to Live With It

By April 23, 2008

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Refereeing is always a hot-button issue at this time of year. Tuesday's game seven between Washington and Philadelphia was a cauldron of controversy.

The Flyers' second goal might have been waved off due to goaltender interference, but wasn't. Then they clinched the game and series in overtime, while Tom Poti of the Capitals sat in the penalty box.

This sent Adam Proteau of the Hockey News into a tizzy. He didn't care for either call. The refereeing, he writes, was abhorrent, inexplicable, and indefensible. He won't blame the refs for "missing a call or two," but...

I do, however, blame the league if it (a) cannot comprehend how awful it appears when their officials put away the whistles late in important games, and (b) take the appropriate steps as rapidly and doggedly as they did in creating the Sean Avery Rule to ensure this type of debacle never happens again.
Which is a perfectly reasonable stance to take, if you just started watching hockey about two weeks ago.

Consider this: Barry Melrose at ESPN said letting Philadelphia's second goal stand was "a good non-call." E.J. Hradek at ESPN.com said it could have gone either way, and judged the overtime penalty "deserved." Even Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said the call against Poti was legit: "He tripped him."

Of course, plenty of other commentators agree with Proteau that the refs botched the game. The point is: opinion is all over the place. It always is in these situations.

There is no consensus in the hockey community on how the referees should call the game, especially in high-pressure situations. There never will be a consensus.

Proteau's entitled to his opinion. But to pretend that his reading of the rules is the only correct one, and that future controversies could be avoided by "appropriate steps" is nonsense.

Refereeing is a perpetual work in progress. The relationship between the rulebook and the game demands interpretation, and always will.

Expanding the scope of video review wouldn't help. It would just lead to more delays, more bickering over the rules and more angry screeds from sportswriters who should know better.

Sports justice will never be black-and-white, cut-and-dried, or above reproach. As long as referees lace up skates, the rest of us will question when and why they blow - or don't blow - the whistle.

Bruce Boudreau knows this, which is why he didn't call out the refs in his dignified postgame comments. Like him, we've just got to roll with it.

Photo: Referee Don Koharski (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)


April 23, 2008 at 5:24 pm
(1) The Hammer says:

yep i agree the Tom Poti penalty was a trip.
it was a penalty.
But not in a game where in periods 2 and 3 he could have tripped him, beat him in the head with his stick, and laid waste his home town and dated his wife and still no penalty.
Until the idiots who run the league (BETTMAN) cannot decide that a penalty is a penalty is a penalty no matter what the game or score, the we’ll be subjected to this s**t forever. And I promise i’ll stop using foul language. I won’t say BETTMAN again.
The Hammer

April 26, 2008 at 6:37 pm
(2) Adam says:

The way I see it, Boudreau would not complain about the referring, nor has he called any refs out by name. A) He is a class act and is a humble guy and (B) complaining about the refs or calls would not have made a difference and would have been sour grapes to an otherwise great season. The Capitals are a young team and should see the playoffs again for years to come. Go CAPS.

April 26, 2011 at 1:36 am
(3) Allan says:

Why is it that every playoff season the referees seem to lose their collective brains.The hit that Vancouvers player doled out was a penalty according to the refs. What about the hit the Chicago player handed out, it was the same hit but no penalty.The referee should have lost his job right there.The reason there are two refs is to watch everything and not play favourites. It almost makes me think money changed hands.

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