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There are two charming things about TSN analyst Kerry Fraser’s transformation from perfectly coiffed on-ice official into the hockey media’s leading voice on referee matters.
The first, of course, is that one of the NHL’s more problematic officials during his tenure with the league has been recast as a paragon of virtue. If reading Fraser's "here's what I would have done" analysis gives me the chuckles, I can't even imagine the guffaws from his peers in zebra stripes.
The second is Fraser’s absolute candor in that NHL officiating is problematic, due to their inherent humanity and fallibility and biases and outright lust for revenge on certain players.
Which brings us to Brandon Prust.
The Montreal Canadiens forward went rip city on referee Brad Watson after their Game 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, accusing him of cursing out Prust in the penalty box and “trying to play God” by giving him a misconduct Prust didn’t feel he earned.
This will all be proven out by footage from the sin bin, but the simple accusation by Prust is likely to earn him a fine from Colin Campbell for criticism of officials. The bigger issue is how all of this plays out for the Canadiens in Game 3, down 2-0 to the Lightning and needing a well-officiated game as much as Brandon Prust needs an open mic.
According to Kerry Fraser, revenge is a dish best served cold, and it’s very cold in the referees’ dressing room. From the National Post:
“Brandon Prust has engaged himself in something that’s going to take him into an area where he doesn’t want to be part of …
[Ed. Note: Is this a super villain speech?]
“… because officials are human and they’re part of a team too. If you look at the team concept from a hockey players’ perspective, they stand up for their teammates. The same goes for officials.
“Alex Burrows will tell you that after his public outcry he was picked on by the officials,” said Fraser. “Jim Schoenfeld and New Jersey Devils fans will tell you that they were made to pay in following seasons after the Don Koharski donut episode. There is some merit to that.
“Officials are human and they’re not going to give players a free pass who go public and say something that embarrasses one of them.”
Isn’t it astounding to hear a former official with Fraser’s pedigree acknowledge this? That officials whose only aspiration should be even-handedness and integrity hold grudges? Especially when he evokes the name of Stephane Auger, a former peer that was so disgraced by his biased actions and inadequate job performance that he left the league in what was alleged to be a forced retirement.
(Fraser said in his TSN column that Auger "was cleared of any and all inappropriate comments alleged by Burrows." Yes, by the NHL, which would have otherwise had to admit institutional bias by one of its on-ice officials. So, uh, not exactly an independent audit there.)
There needs to be accountability on both sides for sure. As upset or offended as the referee might have been, I find it hard to believe that Brad Watson would fall so far below the line of professional decorum to say what has been alleged by Brandon Prust. Regardless of the outcome of any investigation, Prust has violated a "code." His comments won't sit well with the officiating fraternity.
Look, I’ll agree with Fraser here: There are no winners in petulant crying about a referee with a potty mouth deciding to give you a misconduct.
(I’m not buying any theory that this was Prust’s way of defecting from the loss; I knew Chris Pronger, I covered Chris Pronger, and you sir are no Chris Pronger...)
Prust makes himself and the team marked men. The best case scenario is that Watson doesn’t work in the series again; worst case scenario is that the Brotherhood of Game Officials band together to punish Prust and not give the Canadiens any breaks, which is what Fraser seems to indicate here.
Again, no surprises: Asking for impartiality from NHL on-ice officials is a pipe dream. They all have biases, all have targets for revenge, all manage games based on personal preference and game situation -- hi, Game 7, Islanders vs. Capitals -- rather than actual enforcement of the rules.
They’re all playing God. That’s why they chose the professional path. Some of them are kind and generous, some of them are spiteful and arrogant. All you can do is pray for the best, as the Habs will in Game 3.
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