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Cornered Coach: The Human Touch


Why is the NHL community such a big bunch of cry babies?

And now that I've stirred the pot in a blatant attempt to capture your undivided attention, allow me to explain.

At the NHL level, the perfect player just doesn't exist. Okay, Connor McDavid is darn close but even number 97 has a few flaws. He couldn't, for example, talk the Oilers marketing department out of modelling those gaudy orange third jerseys.

C'mon, Connor. Be a leader, kid!

But despite the absence of utter perfection, NHLers expect nothing but perfection when it comes to the way the game is officiated.

One referee?

Not good enough. So now we have two zebras roaming the ice, which means more bodies to clog things up and a lot less personality on the part of the whistle blowers. From grim-faced Bruce Hood to Don "Have another Donut" Koharski to Kerry "Not a single hair out of place" Fraser, the top refs used to be just as recognizable as the players they were paid to police.

Modern officials, on the other hand, are as anonymous as an Arizona Coyote at a busy Phoenix shopping mall. The uniform might look familiar, but who the heck is the guy wearing it?

The only member of the current NHL referee brigade I can name is Tom Kowal. He's actually a very good ref but, to be honest, the only reason I can identify him is because of my stint as a WHL broadcaster in the 90's when Kowal was a mere babe in stripes who was just beginning his NHL ascent. Under the two referee system, more officials have obviously found work in the NHL, However, a colourful part of the game has definitely been lost as badgering the ref provided a huge slice of fun for puck fans.

"Hey, ref! Give your head a shake. Your eye balls are freezing up!"

Who can put a price on those sorts of witty gems, right?

But with two referees to divide our attention and an NHL mandate that encourages officials to stay vanilla and remain out of the limelight, it's just not as much of a kick to scream at the men in stripes anymore.

And while referees have been reduced to mechanical wind-up dolls, video review has also played a huge role in knocking the stuffing out of hockey's human element.

Did the puck cross the goal line?

Was player X's toe over the blue line on a gorgeous rush, negating the red light?

Did somebody nudge the poor over-padded and over-protected goalie?

All of the above scenarios are subject to the dreaded video review, slowing the game to an absolute crawl while a bunch of suits in a Toronto high-rise play the roles of omnipotent hockey gods.

Thankfully, it's much different and a whole lot more pure in minor hockey. As coaches, we're constantly drilling into kids that mistakes are bound to happen on the ice. Players mess up, coaches suffer brain cramps and, yes, referees sometimes drop the ball in the midst of all those dropped pucks. The key to it all is the manner in which the coach and players react to a referee's mistake. It's perfectly understandable to have an emotional reaction to a poor call in the heat of battle. But as quickly as possible you have to re-group, get your head together and move on.

That's a life lesson that NHL coaches, players, fans and media should contemplate.

After all, the human touch and inspirational human achievement is what attracted people to hockey in the first place.

The perfect game?

It simply doesn't exist. No matter how many referees you distribute or how many video angles you come up with, the game is still played by hockey-crazed human beings.

And until the day that Robot Richard surpasses the legend of Rocket Richard, that's something we should all be extremely thankful for.

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