If you’re a fan of the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers, or of hockey in general, then you’re more than likely aware of certain comments made by Rangers' Head Coach John Tortorella following Monday's Winter Classic.
Referring to the officiating in the third period as "disgusting" and "horrible", Tortorella also intimated that perhaps there was a conspiracy of sorts between the NHL and NBC to push the game into overtime.
There were three specific events in that third period that led to Tortorella's comments, and all three were stunning in terms of the amount of incompetency demonstrated by the officiating crew.
We'll get to the events themselves in a moment.
In the end, what’s important here is the fact that Tortorella, while not necessarily justified in suggesting that a conspiracy was afoot, can certainly be forgiven for pushing the boundaries a bit, especially considering the enormity of the blown calls and the passion of the moment.
Today, Tortorella issued apologies to everyone involved in the process, and it would appear he also apologized to all their relatives, friends, neighbors, and some of their pets as well. Let it be said here that Tortorella, despite the public mea culpa, should in no way feel any level of shame for his comments.
He suggested that his thoughts regarding the conspiracy theory were in fact made sarcastically, and so, inevitably, this leads up to the central theme of our discussion; eff 'em all if they cant take a joke.
Now, regardless of whether you view Tortorella's apology as being sincere, and we do based on both the tone of the remarks and what we know of Tortorella's integrity as a man, it would be better if we lived in a world where he didn’t have to issue an apology at all.
The calls and non-calls in that third period were so egregious that, if anything, the NHL and the referee's association should be issuing apologies to Tortorella and the Rangers.
First, there was Marian Gaborik being harpooned early in the third directly in front of a referee and while he was directly involved in the play. This wasn’t some undercover hatchet job after a whistle or during a scrum, this was an in your face, Slapshotesque attack.
Keep in mind that the Rangers were up by a goal at this point, and dominating in terms of puck possession and shots on goal for the period—playing a man short for two minutes could have very likely buried the Flyers, or at the very least undermined their ability to regain the momentum.
Next up was one of the more horrific calls you'll ever come across. With the Rangers a man down, and with Flyers' Coach Peter Laviolette having already pulled his goalie, Ryan Callahan stripped the puck away from the Philly point man Kimmo Timonen, and began to break away as he approached center ice.
Callahan was maybe a stride away from being gone for good when Timonen, as he should have, hauled him down. Better Callahan be given a penalty shot with a goalie in net than a breakaway alone with no goalie in sight.
The problem, though, was that Timonen's stick came up on Callahan, neck-high to be exact, and Callahan's reaction was what you'd expect: To reach for the blade of Timonen's stick and attempt to stop it from performing a tracheotomy.
Somehow, against all reason, referee Ian Walsh called a holding-the-stick penalty on Callahan, which changed from the original, and even more absurd call for diving. This one almost needs to be seen to be believed, and we recommend you hunt a clip down if time permits.
The incidental penalties resulted in the Rangers' now facing a five on four situation in their d-zone, due to Philly's continued choice to keep their goalie on the bench.
As NBC analyst Mike Milbury pointed out, the situation was better for Philly than a six on five would have been, due to there being more room for the Philly forwards to operate in the Ranger's zone.
Strike Three, if you will, was Philadelphia being rewarded a penalty shot with just under 20 seconds remaining. Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh was whistled for closing his hand on the puck in the crease, and this is despite the fact that the only time he could have done this was when his hand was under the leg pad of G Henrik Lundqvist, meaning out of the sight of either referee.
Replays indicate only that he moved the puck with his gloved hand, but no definitive visual evidence exists showing him actually closing his hand on the puck. It was a presumptive call of the worst order, and with a critical two points on the line it would have been a travesty if the referee’s lack of judgment resulted in the game being decided by anything other than the performances of each team.
It is against this backdrop that Tortorella flipped, and understandably so. Again, perhaps he went a bit further off the reservation than he should have, and maybe another coach bites his lip there, but when you’re playing in the most significant regular season spectacle your sport has to offer this side of the playoffs its natural to expect that the game will be decided by the players and not the referees. There have been pond hockey games called with more consistency, and it was a shame it all had to happen on the huge stage provided by the Winter Classic.
Tortorella will never be confused with the mild mannered, soft-spoken type, and he's reportedly as brutally honest a person as you’ll ever find. It is that honesty that is cited by his players as his most appealing attribute, and it is a trait to be admired for sure. It is doubtful that Tortorella honestly felt that the league and NBC were conspiring in any way, of course, but in all honesty who gives a darn. His team had fought like dogs against a Philly squad that could have just as easily come away with the two points, only to see that effort jeopardized by extreme incompetency.
In the end, eff 'em if they can't take a joke.