Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Time to Make Referees Accountable

Like any sports fan, I love to criticize the referees (or umpires, whatever the case may be). However, I typically don't make a habit of calling out the officiating here unless it's completely called for. And if you watched last night's Flyers-Senators game in Ottawa, which the Flyers lost 2-0 to drop their third straight game, you know just how bad things got.

Before I delve into the details, I would like to preface this by stating I am not one of the conspiracy theorist Flyers fans who thinks the referees are out to get them. Honestly, I'm not. Go back and check the archives. I've written about the Flyers a ton. And I'm not even suggesting that the refs last night were biased or one-sided. After all, Philadelphia did manage to get six power plays to Ottawa's 8, even if the time in the box wasn't quite equal. No, what I'm saying is that the referees last night did not do their job. Not even a little bit. They let the game get out of hand, and the entire complexion of the contest was altered by them failing to do their job.

It didn't take long for it to begin either. Twenty-six seconds in, Mike Richards was called for holding on a play that didn't even resemble a hold or a penalty. At worst it was incidental contact. In reality, it was literally nothing. Bogus call, but fine. That established that the referees were going to be calling this one tight, right? Wrong. Dead wrong.

I won't even argue about the Flyers getting called for three penalties in first 8 minutes, though that was annoying. From the way the first period was called, you'd expect there would be lots of penalties, and anything that was questionable would be called. Then this happened:

Anton Volchenkov made a b-line for Dan Carcillo, who was carrying the puck. Volchenkov lined Carcillo up and went at him full-board, coming in elbow first right at Carcillo's head. Carcillo still made an awesome pass to Simon Gagne, who was stopped by Brian Elliott (who played awesome, by the way), and then the whistle blew. Surely Volchenkov was headed off for at least two minutes, most likely a 5-minute major, right? I mean, this is the exact type of play the NHL is trying to outlaw and looking to punish the players who deliver them harshly. Volchenkov went after Carcillo's head, and he did it with an elbow no less. Five-minute major no doubt.

When the dust settled, the Flyers did get a power play … but it wasn't Volchenkov in the penalty box. What?!? No, it was Chris Kelly getting two for hooking Gagne. Not only did Volchenkov escape the 5-minute major he deserved, he escaped any penalty whatsoever. It was a fucking joke. Immediately, Craig Berube, hardly one to get on officials or even get upset on the bench, was going nuts, demanding a major. Nothing. I couldn't believe it. A dangerous play with the intent to injure on a shot to the head no less — everything the NHL is trying to do away with — and nothing. No repercussions for Volchenkov whatsoever.

It was garbage. And it was hardly the last bit of horrendous officiating. With the game still sitting at 1-0 Senators in the third — Ottawa scored on a 2-on-1 in the first after Ryan Parent pinched and on his way to cover for him, Danny Briere went for a big check, resulting in Oskars Bartulis left all alone on a 2-on-1; Bartulis did his job, taking away the pass early, but Boucher didn't come out and challenge the shooter enough, giving up too much net, and Kelly ripped a shot past him — the Flyers were scratching and clawing their way back into it. Still just a goal down, they were beginning to establish some pressure on the Sens and get some chances. Then, this happened:

Volchenkov, not satisfied with blatantly getting away with a dangerous, dirty play, decided why not do it again. Simon Gagne, after playing the puck, had his head down facing the boards, about three to four feet away from said boards. Shortly after Gagne played the puck through, Volchenkov unleashed on Gagne from behind, drilling him into the boards. Classic boarding penalty, another thing the NHL is emphasizing this year. It was another dangerous play, with a player getting drilled form behind face-first into the boards with no way to protect himself. Surely the referees wouldn't allow Volchenkov to get away with another dirty, dangerous play, right? Wrong. Instead of blowing the whistle and rightfully assessing a penalty to Volchenkov, which should have probably been another major, but certainly a boarding penalty if nothing else, the refs called nothing. As play carried on, the Flyers seemed to let up, and they were already down a man with Gagne disposed. That resulted in a rebound goal by Daniel Alfredsson to put the Sens up 2-0. I couldn't believe it.

Two dirty plays in one game by Volchenkov, clear penalties without question, and not even a single second in the penalty box for them. To add insult to injury, the second one directly resulted in a goal, a goal that turned a 1-goal game into a two-goal game. It was fucking ridiculous and inexcusable. And to cap it all off, after the goal, the Flyers were forced to go down a man for seven minutes. Why? Because Gagne, rightfully upset, went after Volchenkov, trying to defend himself since the referees certainly weren't interested in doing so. Simon Gagne went after a bigger, stronger player. That's when you know it was a dirty play. As a result, Gagne was given two minutes for instigating, two minutes for doing so with a visor and a five-minute fighting major … plus a game misconduct. Volchenkov did serve two minutes for roughing, his only penalty of the game. Nothing for his two blatantly dirty, blatantly obvious hits. Fucking ridiculous.

Peter Laviolette went off on the officials, and rightfully so. And he got even more pissed off when the official who came to explain everything started to skate away. Clearly he said something to Laviolette that Peter didn't like. I just wish he would have gone on one of those tirades that resulted in throwing stuff on the ice and storming out. If ever an occasion called for it, this was it.

And, oh, that wasn't all. Because even after the Flyers killed off all 7 minutes of the resulting power play, they were still in striking distance. They couldn't unleash the hounds and start taking runs at Senators as I'm sure they wanted to because the game was still close and they really needed some points. Then, Mr. Official struck again:

To me, it certainly looked like the Flyers finally got on the board with about four minutes left, making it a one-goal game again. But you know what, it was really tough to see. It was called no goal on the ice, so I can see how an argument could be made that there was no conclusive evidence to allow the goal. That's fine. What isn't fine is that clearly, unquestionably, our man, Anton Volchenkov, put his hand around the puck while in the crease and threw it out of the net. Yet no penalty called. Ladies and gentlemen, egregious penalty No. 3 that Volchenkov got away with, the second of which directly affected the scoreboard. Un-fucking-believable. I mean, you can't make this stuff up. In my wildest dreams, I couldn't imagine a crew of officials fucking up a game more than this one.

Three blatant, obvious penalties by Anton Volchenkov ignored. Two of them were some of the dirtiest plays you'll ever see, plays the NHL is looking to outlaw and eliminate. Yet nothing. And you know what happens to the referees for failing to do their jobs correctly, for failing to protect the players on the ice, for putting players in harm's way? Nothing. Not a damn thing. There's no one to answer to. No one they have to face, at least publicly.

And that's a fucking joke. Bill McCreary and Gord Dwyer were the referees last night. They should be forced to explain their actions, explain their calls and non-calls. Explain why two Flyers were almost decapitated without any repercussions. I know referees are human. I know they will make mistakes, miss calls. I know it's a tough job, a thankless job. But it is a job nonetheless. And one they should be held responsible for. In a public forum, in a public event, they are on full display for all to see. They should have to answer for their mistakes, just like players, just like coaches, just like owners and GMs, in a public forum as well. It's time. Officials should, just like all the other participants, be forced to face the media after games. After all, we always hear about how the officials are part of the game. Time to start treating them as such and holding them responsible as such. Because games like last night deserve explanation. We deserve to know why things played out the way they did. It's time for referees and officials to face the music.

It's also time the Flyers remember how to score goals again too, but that's a different situation entirely.

BallHype: hype it up!

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