Friday, December 19, 2008

Upon the Ice Frustration Lay

It’s not right to write when one’s emotions are at a heightened state. So I’ve given myself about an hour to calm down and think about what I’ve seen. I drove home from the Ice Palace, kissed the sleeping girlfriend on the head and scratched the fat cat behind his left ear - his favorite ear scratching spot. I flipped on SportsCenter naively thinking they would have a highlight from the game. I sent an email to Dave over at Fielders Choice and surfed a couple of sites. That being said I’m still pissed.

I loathe blaming officials for losses. I think it was my dad who said, “If you leave the game in the hands of the officials you don’t deserve to win”. Actually, I don’t think he said it but it sounds like something he would say so I’m giving him credit. That being said - man did the ref’s blow the Lightning game tonight.

If you haven’t read about it or seen it, which based on hockey’s current popularity you probably haven’t, the Lightning lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Colorado Avalanche. The only goal that counted in the shootout never crossed the goal line. In fact, it wasn’t even close. Only the Lightning could lose a game where the winning goal never crossed the line.

Here is how it happened. Both the Lightning and the Avalanche missed in their first attempts. The Lightning then missed their second. For the Avalanche's second attempt goalie Mike Smith faced Colorado forward Milan Hejduk. Hejduk brought the puck down the ice and as he approached the goal Smith leaned forward to poke check the puck away. The Colorado shooter avoided the goalie’s stick and tried to beat him with a backhand shot. Smith made the save with the blocker and as the buck bounced harmlessly away the stick fell out of his hand.

Nice save, the crowd ohhs and ahhs. Then the refs got involved. After initially ruling it a save the refs and the linesmen huddled together for a few minutes. The crowd grew restless. The Lightning’s final shooter - little Marty St Louis - skated in circles. The refs continued to convene. Mike Smith chirped at them from a distance. The crowd grew irritated, boo’s grew louder. Then the ref turned his wireless mike on and announced that due the Av’s would be awarded a goal. Rule 26.4 states that if a stick is thrown by the goalie a goal can be awarded to the shooting team.

Needless to say this was not received well by the hometown crowd. The boos increased in quantity and volume. In our seats we were bewildered - even from hundreds of feet away it was apparent that the stick came out of Smith’s hands well after the save was made. The replays on the jumbotron confirmed our view. Yet the refs would not be swayed. Nor could they once the decision was made. After all, it was not a reviewable play.

Then the normally docile and amiable hockey crowd lost it. The boos reached maximum volume - 9,000 fans sounded like 30,000. A brown bag was launched from the crowd onto the ice. The PA reminded fans that throwing stuff on the ice wasn’t cool. That sparked more debris tossing. Bottles, thunders, paper, lids, anything not locked down found it’s way on the ice.
Smith was beside himself with rage. He had to be restrained from the refs. After the ice was cleared St Louis skated in on Colorado goalie Andrew Raycroft and wasn’t able to beat him on his glove side. Game Over.

The Lightning had failed to win their 8th game. In the grand scheme of things it will be just another loss in a series of them. Yet somehow it seems worse. While they didn't play a perfect game they played well enough to win. Smith in particular was outstanding, several times he flashed out his right pad at the last second to make sparkling saves. I don’t believe that there is a grand conspiracy against the Lightning, the refs didn’t blow this game on purpose, but damn get the call right!

I’m sure there will be an apology from the league once they review it, but that doesn’t get the Lightning an extra point in the standings. Why can’t there be a fine or a suspension for referees Brian Pochmara or Tim Peel? Officials in sports take a lot of unwarranted abuse and I tend to take their side more than a lot of fans, but when a blatant game deciding mistake is made there has to be repercussions.

I’m sure there will be writers and opionists (yeah that’s not a word, but I like it) will rail on about how low class the crowd’s reaction was. They will point out how dangerous it is to throw things on the ice and how it makes them look like a bunch o’ country bumpkins. Normally, I would agree with anyone calling fans in the TBA uneducated rubes. However, I think tonight’s display was more about the fans releasing 30 games of frustration. Frustration at the call, frustration at being last in the league again, frustration at the lack of production from the stars and the free agents, frustration at the mismanagement from the front office - all of that came out tonight.

According to analyst Bobby Taylor Smith spoke with the officials after the game and not one of them would cop to making the call - they told him it was a collective decision. Usually that means that they weren’t sure of the call and were covering for each other. The NHL, via Mike Murphy (VP of Hockey Operations ) stated the refs would not have to talk to anyone because of the “hot environment” and he was afraid that they might be “trapped” down here.

Now if this had happened in Toronto or Montreal I could see the refs having to face a blood thirsty lynching mob, but in Tampa? C’mon now be real. No one cares that much. It’s December 18th and it’s 80 degrees outside. It’s hard to stay mad when the weather is this nice. The league knows the refs screwed the proverbial pooch and they don’t want the refs digging themselves any deeper. Once they see it on television they will know they got it wrong and will feel shame.

So cut the fans a break - out of the sports down here the ones that go to hockey games seem to be the most knowledgeable. So give them a free pass on tonight, but feel free to take it out on the NHL if they let the refs off for this one.

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