Bill McCreary and Rick Nash talk things over. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
One of the staples of “lifestyle” TV these days is the “oh, you think you can do better?” programs in which some cocky husband, after bragging about how easy it is to be a housewife, is made to care for his kids and house; then flops around cluelessly for the viewing audience’s enjoyment.
I’m far from a dyed-in-the-wool fan of those types of shows. But if they ever created one where hockey fans who complain relentlessly about NHL officiating are forced to don the stripes and call a game or two themselves, I’d watch every single second of every last episode.
The producers of that show would have an endless pool of candidates from which to choose, including all the sour apples who went nuclear this week after an officiating crew working the Sabres/Flyers game clearly missed a too-many-men-on-the-ice call against Buffalo that directly resulted in a Sabres goal.
Now, because the Flyers are in a dogfight just to qualify for the playoffs, I don’t blame head coach John Stevens, people in the organization and practically every hockey fan in Philadelphia for being more than a little sore over what transpired. And I’ve also leveled some harsh criticism on the zebras a number of times over the years.
But words cannot express how utterly exhausted I’ve grown of listening to NHL fans – make that all sports fans – attempt to chalk up nearly every lost game or squandered opportunity on the boys in Black and White.
At the risk of getting into ABC After School Special-territory, how difficult is it for people to understand that nobody’s perfect, and because of that, there never will be an error-proof system for policing games?
Have we not learned from Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean, a onetime serial ref-ripper, who, despite being a Level 5 referee himself, only truly understood the challenges officials face after the league allowed him to serve as a referee for a pre-season game in 2006?
Apparently, we haven’t. And that’s why I can guarantee you that in this spring’s playoffs, there will be at least one “controversy” involving a blatant penalty that wasn’t called, or a goal that was wrongly disallowed, or an illegal stick blade that wasn’t immediately identified as such.
It is as predictable as bulging eyes after a puck to the crotch, and if I’m sick to death of it, imagine how nauseated the officials themselves must be.
After every game, I’d bet they’d love nothing better than to pull a few cameras and microphones away from scrums around players and coaches, and deliver the following speech:
“I’ve got a couple questions for all the wiseacres and hockey geniuses out there who believe they can do my job better than I can: You think the game moves in slow motion when you’re down at ice level, the way it does on your fancy high-definition TV? You think it’s fun to show up for work every night knowing there’s thousands of voices in the stands ready to go shrill on you for the slightest perceived error?
Well, it doesn’t, and it isn’t. And until you work hundreds of hockey games at the minor league level to hone your craft, do my colleagues and I a big favor and leave the moaning to porn stars and politicians. Your co-operation in this matter is greatly appreciated.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d leap to my feet and applaud the hell out of any ref who spoke that truth. And though Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s head of officiating, isn’t likely to allow his employees to speak freely anytime soon, I hope he continues to defend them the same way he did after that Sabres/Flyers debacle.
They’re not perfect, but nobody’s closer to perfect than they are.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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