Most hockey fans that have ever had children participating in youth hockey are not surprised when they hear about referees letting their personal feelings affect how they call a game. There is not much new about ice officials in amateur play favoring one team over another or purposely missing a call. This is why they are called “amateurs". It is also where the phrase “Hometown Ref” originated.
However, huge problems emerge when such behavior makes its way into the professional ranks of the NHL.
The referee has an important role because, along with other responsibilities, they dictate the pace and the level of play based on calls made during a contest. The referee gains or loses a team’s confidence and respect with every game that he calls.
The furor concerning Vancouver Canuck forward Alex Burrows and Referee Stephane
Auger speaks directly about the problems that manifests when a referee becomes a factor as to whether a team wins or loses.
Auger is accused by Burrows of approaching him prior to the opening faceoff and telling him he was going to get even for "embarrassing" him in an earlier game.
Burrows said Auger called three penalties against him in the third period—two minors and a misconduct—to get back at him for an incident in a Dec. 8 contest in Nashville.
Burrows said Auger felt he had been tricked into calling a charging major and game misconduct against the Predators’ Jerred Smithson. The NHL later overturned the Smithson call, ruling that Burrows took a dive on the play.
With the both teams and the same referee on the ice, Burrows info told reporters that Auger said before the game that he would “get me back” for making him look bad. While Burrows was serving his second minor penalty of the third period, defenseman Shea Weber scored the winning goal for the Predators.
According to several reports, the National Hockey League has launched an investigation into explosive post-game accusations made by Alex Burrows regarding an alleged bias against him by Auger. An NHL spokesman said Tuesday that Colin Campbell, the NHL’s vice-president of hockey operations, was reviewing the matter.
It was not currently known if the NHL will issue a statement or announce any disciplinary action against Auger, Burrows, or both of them, but it promises to be one of the most sensitive and difficult incidents the NHL has had to deal with this season.
There was also no formal word from the NHL Officials Association, which would likely be called on to defend Auger should any disciplinary actions be taken.
The NHL, in its history, has had its share of referee related issues including the strong allegations of referee bias against Rocket Richard that led to his suspension and the famous Rocket Richard Riot in 1955.
THE SPORTING NEWS reports that for the rest of this season, NHL referee prospects in the American Hockey League will undergo a new kind of on-the-job-training. They will wear wireless microphones and be in constant contact with an NHL supervisor in the press box. Also, a couple of the NHL's youngest referees will go through a new game-to-game critiquing system.
"My goal is to go to an NFL system of critiquing the performance of individual officials and teaching them, coaching them," NHL Senior Vice President Brian Burke says. "I don't think it's right to sit down and lecture a referee right after he's had a long night at the rink, as we have in the past. It serves no purpose, especially if the referee has just gone through an emotional game.
There is a great story about Gordie Howe sitting in the stands of the old Olympia Stadium in Detroit with a referee’s young son during a morning skate. Howe asked the boy how his father planned to get home from the rink? The boy said “He will drive home Mr. Howe." Gordie said “Oh no son your dad can’t drive home. Your dad can’t see.”