Highway Robbery at Sunrise: Florida Panthers Mugged by Penguin Ref

Robert YoungContributor INovember 24, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 23: Keith Ballard #2 of the Florida Panthers has his mouth checked by referee Kevin Pollock #33 after he was hit by Sidney Crosby #87 (not pictured) of the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 23, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

You would think the defending Stanley Cup Champions would not need any breaks and dodgy calls to beat the upstart Florida Panthers.

However, apparently the refs thought otherwise and handed the victory to the Penguins on a silver platter. Words do not suffice to express the outrage and utter disbelief—of the highway robbery on ice—that Panthers’ fans are feeling.

In a shocking turn of events, the Florida Panthers lost another two-goal lead in the third period, to then be punished by a controversial double-minor penalty in the ensuing overtime by the Penguins.

Referee’s Greg Kimmerly and Kevin Bollocks, sorry; Pollock, with much help from intervening linesmen Tony Sericolo, and Mark Shewchyk, conspired together to hand the victory to their Penguin brethren in black and white at the game in Sunrise.

The visitors from Pittsburgh didn’t need another invitation, or the entire four minute man-advantage, to cash in on the dodgy call.

Sidney Crosby collected a loose puck in front of the net and tucked it away behind the brave Tomas Vokoun in goal; who to that point had almost single-handedly kept the Cats in the game after a late surge from the visitors.

The play that would be foremost on everyone’s mind was the appalling actions by one of the linesmen.

A minute in to the overtime, the Pittsburgh defender Brooks Orpik checked Nathan Horton in the back well after Horty had released the puck. That would qualify as an interference one would think, right?

But no: The linesman, in all his wisdom, decided to but in and call the penalty—on Nathan Horton.

The Florida Panthers’ forward, the by far dominating offensive player of the game to that point, was sent to the box for four minutes.

Apparently it is now illegal in the NHL to be checked in the back by an opposing player and subsequently fall to the ice.

Let’s call it a high sticking and pretend that the fouled player, checked in the back and falling to the ice, actually has the semblance of means to control his stick in this instance.

In these new directives, apparently sent to the linesmen just prior to this game, they are to be vigilant of any players falling to the ice as the result of a blindsided check.

Obviously that kind of behavior cannot be tolerated by the NHL and shall henceforth warrant four minutes in the penalty box—to the player fouled that is—not the one delivering the foul naturally.

So well done linesman! I’m sure Gary Bettman will reward you handsomely for that brilliant call, and of course; for giving Sidney Crosby the chance to star in another game.

After all, if we are to sell this game to those who have no interest in the sport—we must have our fix stars in hockey. And we all feel Sidney, poor fellow, deserves a few extra breaks in life don’t we…

Seriously though, I have nothing against Sidney or the Penguins, but I see no reason for the referee’s to give them any extra favors either. They are good enough to stand on their own two feet.

Panthers fans are rightfully p*ssed and feel robbed of a sporting chance to win this game.

This latest referee meltdown is likely to reignite not only the discussions of poor overall refereeing, but also the long-held belief that the refs favor the teams from the north.

I’m not one to believe in conspiracies, but fact is that Florida is the subject of one dodgy call after another. If there is any resemblance of a penalty to be taken, no matter how iffy the call is, you can be assured it will be made.

And if you don’t believe me and think this is just a crazy idea emanating from Southern Florida; then take the time to ask the Tampa Bay Lightning what they think of the referee’s calls in their games.

Conspiracy or not, it does seem clear that the Florida teams, Panthers and Lightning, have no “luck” with the referee’s.

And considering this, it is sometimes hard not to think that the refs do in fact favor the northern teams.

After all; the refs come from these regions, the traditional hockey markets, and if they feel what most people do in those areas—well then they do not like the idea of hockey teams playing in the Sunshine State.

If that is the case, then there is a built in bias from the get-go and it is hard to imagine that this would not, even if on a subconscious level, have an effect on the calls that the refs make.


The game is over and there is not much point in keeping on harping about the refs and the bad calls. Despite this dark cloud on the NHL horizon there are still some positives to take out of the game for the home side.

Florida played some good hockey and should have expanded the lead in the third at the score of 2-1. Two shots hit the post behind Fleury and had either gone in; then no amount of dodgy calls from the refs could help the Penguins salvage anything from this game, surely.

And even in defeat, it must be admitted that one point isn’t all that bad.

Pittsburgh is the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason, and yet, once again the Cats showed themselves able to go toe-to-toe with the champs.

That in itself bodes well for this season.

The Panthers have certainly turned things around and look poised to make a push for the playoffs.

All players are finding their stride—although none more than the trio of Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, and Tomas Vokoun—and they have now gelled and look more and more solid as a team overall.

There is communication on and off the ice, the tails are up and the confidence growing on an individual level with all players on the roster.

And now that everyone has bought in to head coach Peter DeBoer’s system—they are starting to develop an identity as a hardnosed team that will give anyone a run for the money; including the champions.


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