Refs are not to blame
There is an epidemic in our culture. It has permeated into sports culture in waves and we need to stop it before it takes root permanently.
That epidemic is blame. We are always looking for blame, someone to blame, something to blame. In sports, this manifests as blame of referees.
That is why this has to stop. Referees, in general, are not to blame when it comes to sports.
This year in the NHL playoffs, we have see missed calls and mistakes throughout. These things happen. However, we have also seen referees take the blame for a large chunk of it.
It is not their fault.
As I was reading Twitter last week, Vegas Golden Knights fans still blame the referees for the call on Cody Eakin in Game Seven of their series against the San Jose Sharks. Say what you want about the hit itself, Eakin’s cross-check knocked Sharks captain out of that game and most of the second round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
As Ken Campbell of The Hockey News pointed out, that play happens because the league has been lax in its enforcement of cross-checking across the board. Also, it is important to note that the Sharks were down 3-0 all the point the call is made. Only twice in playoff history, prior to that game, had a team scored four power play goals on the same power play in the playoffs.
Yet, that is exactly what happened.
The Golden Knights had every opportunity to kill off that major penalty. Instead, they chose that moment to fail to play hard for the five minute stretch and the Sharks did the seemingly impossible.
After the game, the refs came under such scrutiny that the NHL decided to suspend that crew for the rest of the playoffs and issue an apology.
Vegas fans forget that prior to that call, the Sharks surrendered a goal on what appeared to be a high stick by Eakin. There did not seem to be a definitive angle to prove that his stick was too high, but those are the breaks.
In the second round, the Sharks were again at the center of the hockey world’s discussion of referee blame when the Avalanche appeared to tie Game Seven.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog was at the bench, attempting a line change, when Colin Wilson picked up a loose puck outside the blue line, skate it into the Sharks’ zone and beat goaltender Martin Jones cleanly.
The goal was eventually called back, after the Sharks called for a review. It was determined that Landeskog was still on the ice and standing inside the offensive zone at the bench while Wilson grabbed the puck outside the zone and carried it into the offensive zone, meaning the play was offside. Avalanche fans tried to claim that Landeskog was at the bench and not involved in the play, but that is not how offsides works as currently written. His skates were still on the ice and in the offensive zone, therefore, he was offsides.
What Avalanche fans conveniently missed was the fact that, even if Landeskog, the play would not have counted. The reason the goal would have been called off: too many men on the ice. You see, Wilson jumped over the boards and onto the ice in exchange for Landeskog. With Landeskog still on the ice, that creates a situation where Colorado has too many men on the ice.
In Game Three of the Western Conference finals, the Sharks were again at the center of controversy when it appeared that winger Timo Meier batted a puck out of the air with his hand to the front of the net prior to a game-winning goal by Erik Karlsson. The referees determined the goal could not be reviewed because the hand pass Meier made went to winger Gustav Nyquist in front of the St. Louis net. Nyqvist then made a legal pass to Karlsson, who scored the goal.
As the NHL has established earlier in the playoffs, plays, that while illegal, do not directly lead to goals, i.e. the puck that bounced off the netting to a Columbus Blue Jackets forward, who then passed the puck to winger Artemi Panarin, who scored a goal. The Sharks/Blues game falls under the same issue. Since Meier’s pass did not go directly to Karlsson, nor did it go into the goal itself, the play is not reviewable.
Again, the NHL chose to suspend those referees as well. I just hope it was not for that play alone, but also for the missed calls prior to that goal. Calls like the fact that Meier was tripped prior to playing the hand pass, or the fact that Blues winger David Perron fired a puck over the glass in his own end, which is a penalty. Not only was he not called, but less than 30 seconds later, he scored a goal at the other end of the rink, turning a 3-1 game into a 3-2 game. There were others missed, on both sides, but not enough, in my opinion to suspend the crew.
Blaming referees is not exclusive to the NHL playoffs. The Iron Mountain Mountaineers boys basketball team played for the state championship this spring. Leading late in the contest, the Mountaineers appeared to pad their lead with a layup. However, while watching the game live, without the benefit of instant replay, the referees determined that the Mountaineer player who scored (I forget his name) traveled. Shortly after, a Pewamo-Westphalia player was running up the court when he was wrapped in as a Mountaineer player committed a foul. The referees, again dealing with the game in real time, determined that it was technical foul, so the Pewamo-Westphalia player was awarded two shots with no one around him. He made both, and Iron Mountain lost the game.
The referees did not cause the loss for Iron Mountain. They had other chances to win that contest. It is unfortunate that the two plays happened when they did, but they were not the root cause of the loss.
If we blame refs for every call we don’t like, soon there won’t be any refs willing to call games. As sports fans, we need to accept that they are not perfect, but hey, neither are we. Let the refs call the game as best they can. Can we disagree with calls? Absolutely, that is our right. However, do not blame them for mistakes.