Kerry Fraser reffed in the NHL for 30 years. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
I called Kerry Fraser the other day intending to ask just three or four questions about his new book, The Final Call, wanting to keep things relatively brief during a hectic week at the office.
As things transpired, I asked four or five questions and, 45 minutes later, grudgingly cut the interview “short.” The 58-year-old retired referee with the kryptonite hair is a master storyteller and he left me wanting to hear more, much more, but obligations beckoned. The Final Call instantly became next-in-line on my reading list.
During our chat, the 30-year NHL veteran, who packed away his whistle at the end of last season, touched on a handful of memories and reflections, including a feud with Wayne Gretzky, death threats uttered against him during the St. Louis “Monday Night Miracle” in 1986, his role as therapist with Tyson Nash and Theo Fleury, his feelings on head shots and brain injuries, and yes, Leafs fans, the non-call against The Great One in the 1993 Western Conference final. Look for more on those yarns in a future blog, an issue of The Hockey News, or, of course, Fraser’s book.
We only have space this week for one anecdote and its principal is one-time NHL pugilist Jim McKenzie, a journeyman who amassed 1,739 penalty minutes for nine teams during a 14-year NHL career.
At the time of the incident, McKenzie was a rookie toiling for the Hartford Whalers and, following the final buzzer of the final game of the season, he waited for everyone to leave the ice, including all trainers, then approached Fraser.
“He said to me, very quietly, ‘Kerry, if I told you to f--- off, would you give me a 10-minute misconduct?’ ” Fraser recalled. “It was a nothing game, nobody was mad, and Jim was such a gentle giant, a bona fide respectful tough guy. I laughed and said, ‘You’re kidding, right?’
“He said, ‘Kerry, I’ve got a bonus in my contract for penalty minutes, I’m four minutes short, and the f---ing coach never played me one shift tonight.’
“I said, ‘What did you say?’
“He said, ‘f--- off.’
“I said, ‘Say it like you mean it.’
“He said, ‘F--- OFF!!!!’ ”
“I said, ‘YOU GOT 10!!’ ”
“He said, ‘Thank you’ and he went up the hall, happy as a pig in sh--.”
It’s that kind of chronicle, Fraser says, that humanizes the game, its players and officials and, when re-told, creates a closer connection with the fans. And it’s the type of tale that recurs in his book.
“It’s the stuff Slap Shot was made out of,” he says. “It’s stuff you’d say, ‘That couldn’t happen.’ Well, it did.”
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly.
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