"There's nothing better than a good, blind referee."
--Bobby Heenan, legendary former pro wrestling manager
I used to be convinced all sports fans really wanted from their officials was a fair shake. Now, after another round of zebra-related whining as it relates to the first round of the NHL playoffs, I think they're only there to serve as a loser's lame excuse.
In a sense, I identify with guys such as Bill McCreary, Don Van Massenhoven and Rob Shick. Because when you work at The Hockey News, or as a sports journalist in general, you tend to catch hell from all sides.
You're pro-East Coast teams. You're anti-short players. You don't want Canada to win. You only want Canada to win. Why do you hate the Red Wings so much? You're just jealous of the Devils' success. Do the Maple Leafs pay you in unmarked bills, or via a secret Swiss bank account?
On and on it goes, until there comes a time when you fully expect to have your every motivation questioned by a suspicious soul or two. You know you're giving it your best shot, but you also understand why, simply because your job duties require a degree of objectivity, that degree will always be doubted.
That's the reason I'm sure Shick and Mike Leggo (the two referees for Game 4 of the Sabres/Islanders series Wednesday night) won't lose much sleep over a "controversial" call some Isles fans will say not only cost their team a game, but, most likely, their first-round series.
Really, there wasn't any controversy at all. Leggo couldn't see the puck underneath Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, so he blew his whistle and halted play. Milliseconds later, the Islanders thought Brendan Witt pushed the puck past Miller for the tying goal, when what Witt actually did was shove Miller, as well as the puck that was underneath him, into the net.
Replays confirmed Leggo's call, but it was no consolation for the fans at Nassau Coliseum, who'd already felt ripped off by the officials in Game 3 -- a game that, coincidentally, the Islanders also lost.
After Game 3, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff answered questions about the officiating by referring to what he thought were shoddy calls in Game 2 -- a game that, strangely enough, Buffalo was on the losing end of.
Noticing a pattern?
That's correct -- dumping on the refs is the domain of losers. In that regard, nothing has changed since the 1993 Campbell Conference finals was allegedly stolen from the Maple Leafs, who, according to their supporters, were a collection of choirboys and valedictorians cruelly taken advantage of by a big, bad, penalty-deserving wolf named Wayne Gretzky and his pompadoured accomplice, Kerry Fraser.
At that point in time, nothing had changed since Hall-of-Fame ref Red Storey retired in 1959 because NHL president Clarence Campbell accused him of choking while working a game.
It never ends, which is why I'm absolutely certain people will be rehashing this boring storyline in 2008, 2009 and every year afterward. As long as team sports have existed, so too have conspiracy theorists utterly convinced those on "the other side" -- and the officials always are on "the other side," side-by-side with an opponent -- are either completely incompetent, or out to get them.
If any of the allegations and insinuations were demonstrably factual, the referee(s) in question would have been summarily drummed out of the sport and lived on only in infamy. There is no proof, of course, yet coaches, GMs and some media types perpetuate the myth in order to shift the spotlight from where it belongs -- on the ice and the players.
Here's the unvarnished truth: If there were people out there capable of better officiating games, the league already would have hired them. The refs make mistakes, but more often than not, they get things right. (Yes, even Mick McGeough.)
Sometimes the calls don't go your way and sometimes you catch a break or two. Sometimes they don't go your way for a period and other times they don't go your way for an entire game or playoff series.
Somehow, championship teams find a way to overcome any and all adversity. The vanquished, meanwhile, too often seek out a bull's-eye for misguided blame. And the officials always are the easiest target around.
But unless Apple invents the iRef, we're stuck with the guys and the system we've got. And until someone comes up with a practical, fail-safe solution to a game played and run by human beings, all you ref-blasting bleaters out there ought to stuff a hockey sock in your sound holes and allow the rest of us to enjoy the playoffs in peace.
Material from The Hockey News.
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