Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Kerry Fraser Day!

Sixteen years ago tonight, this happened:

Yes, the infamous Wayne Gretzky high-stick. Or, more specifically, the infamous Kerry Fraser non-call.

I've written about that fateful game six before; how Wendel Clark played the greatest game of his career, how he almost managed to carry the Leafs into the Cup final on his back, and how Fraser's gutless copout took it away from him. I won't go over all of that again in detail here, mainly because that's what the restraining order says.

So let's just stick to the facts: Gretzky high-sticks Gilmour, the rulebook says it's an automatic five and a game, Fraser and his linesmen huddle up and then decide that nobody saw anything, and Gretzky scores the OT winner seconds later.

Years later, Fraser finally came clean to the Toronto Sun and admitted that he blew the call. Sort of.

"I was blocked out on the play," Fraser said. "The replays show that."

In reality, of course, the replay clearly shows the exact opposite. At the moment that Gretzky's stick clips Gilmour (0:05 of the video above), Fraser has an absolutely clear view of the play, and is looking directly at it.

He wasn't blocked out. He didn't miss it. He saw it, but he didn't have the guts to call it.

Let's be clear: Bad calls happen. Missed calls happen. They're part of sports. And there was no conspiracy here, no secret plot to get a big market US team into the finals and avoid an all-Canadian matchup.

No, this was just one official, staring down the biggest call of his career, and finding himself without the courage to make it.

And of course, this being the NHL, Fraser was never held accountable. He even got the Finals assignment that year. After all, who better to work the biggest games of the year than somebody who'd just finished choking on their whistle?

(Update: Go here to see the NHL's official response to the blown call.)

And the media, for the most part, forgot all about it. Oh sure, they bring it up every now and then -- complete with a shake of their head and a finger-wagging for those silly Leaf fans, always living in the past.

Next year will be the final one of Kerry Fraser's career. As the season winds down, count on reading plenty of feel-good fluff pieces about Fraser's fine body of work, and how much he'll be missed.

Don't believe a word of it. He's a coward and liar, and no Leaf fan should forget or forgive.

Until then, feel free to print this and hang it on your wall today.


  1. I was wondering why I've felt queasy all morning...16 years ago...Wow...

  2. It's been ages since I saw that replay. Man that was /is a heart breaker :( Love the poster It's on the Cubicle wall now.

  3. How can you call a player for a high stick when his stick wasn't raised above his knees?

    Seriously, let it go. Live in the now.

  4. Time flies when you're not winning Stanley Cups.

  5. Jays fans are such killjoys. Live in the 8 game losing streak. PENNANT!

  6. "Seriously, let it go. Live in the now."

    OK, Cheney.

  7. Dude I was already having a crummy day....

    This Tao of Stieb probably thinks Vernon Wells is a clutch hitter.

  8. Oh yeah, this losing streak is a hoot.

    Look at the replay, and you see Gilmour move into the place where Gretzky's stick is. He clipped himself then went down like an Italian footballer looking for a marginal call, which he didn't get.

    And the Habs probably would have won anyways.

  9. @Tao...

    Watch the slow-motion replay at 0:45. When Gilmour skates into Gretzky's stick, it's in his skates.

    Really, if that's not high-sticking, then the rule doesn't exist.

  10. The Leafs went on to have Game Seven at home. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the home team wins two thirds of Game Sevens in the NHL playoffs. The 1993 Leafs managed to be in that one third category.

  11. Sad day.... lest we never forget.

  12. Pretty sure I saw an interview with Fraser a few years back and Ron asked him if he had any regrets and he said not making that call was one thing he did regret.

    He'll still burn in hell.

  13. I suppose.

    I guess if your argument is that by the absolute letter of the law this should have been five and a game and Gretzky should have been tossed because his stick (which was still below waist level) hit Gilmour, then fine...stew in that.

    But then again, it is the NHL playoffs. When have the rules ever been called according the the letter of the law?

    Would you care to take a careful look at all of the Leafs games in the '93 playoffs a pick out all of the time a play that was strictly speaking a penalty? Or look at the Pat Quinn era and pick out every by-the-letter-of-the-law holding call or interference call or holding the stick call?

    The '93 Leafs weren't a Cup shoo in if they won this game. In fact, it isn't even a sure thing that they win this game with Gretzky watching from the dressing room.

    Live with the outcome.

    Let go.


  14. Tao, as a Jays fan, you've got to realize that for a generation of Leafs fans, 1993 was as good as it got. As close as it got.

    We Jays fans have been suffering a long time, but at least we have 1992 and 1993. Leafs fans don't have shit. That's why it's hard to live with that outcome, when a blatant high-stick isn't called, and the guy who commits the crime goes on to score the winner. All in overtime.

    I'd say we have let it go. But that doesn't mean we can't look back upon the day, 16 years later, and bitch about it.

  15. Earlier in the series, Gilmour headbutted McSorley. No penalty, no suspension, so you can't say it was completely one-sided.

    In fact, DGB defends the headbutt in a post: "Now, it is technically true that there is an obscure and rarely enforced NHL rule against head-butting somebody in the face. But I defend Gilmour here..."

    So if Gilmour can get away with a headbutt, then surely missing a high stick isn't that bad. But if you really believe that Gretzky should have been ejected, then Gilmour deserved the two-game suspension as well (which was the rule for a headbutt at the time, I believe).

  16. Interesting. Didnt realize it was the same date as Matteau's 2OT winner against the Devils, which is 15 years ago today. Perfect end to one of the best playoff series I've ever seen.

  17. The Leafs went on to have Game Seven at home. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the home team wins two thirds of Game Sevens in the NHL playoffs. The 1993 Leafs managed to be in that one third category.Dude, throw a spoiler altert on that! Some of us haven't made it to game seven on our tivos yet!


    That's definitely true (except for the automatic suspension part), and is one of the reasons why the conspiracy talk is so annoying. There are bad/missed calls in every series and they almost always even out.

    But again, this one ended up being absolutely critical -- it's hard to imagine a bigger non-call than not ejecting a guy who scores the OT winner a few seconds later. And the referee was looking right at it. He just didn't have the guts to call it.

  18. "Seriously, let it go. Live in the now."

    OK, Cheney.


    Fuck Kerry and the diseased horse he rode in on. He had a single moment in his life when doing his job would have contributed to one of life's great injustices being redeemed, and he blew it.

    As an afterthought, I can't count how many times I've watched him ref a Leaf's game and blow call after call after call since 1993.
    There's something rotten here, and it rhymes with fairy laser.

  19. There are couple important calls in baseball playoff history that have a similar odour to them, and showed ineptitude similar to the kind shown by Kerry Fraser here. All them sicken me as a sports fan, as well as a failed official.

    One was Doug Eddings' blown dropped strike three call in the 2005 ALCS. The funny thing on that one was he got the call right (as per his hand signals) but when that ratfink AJ Pierzynski ran to first base, he tested Eddings' mettle and conviction in his call. He failed. He reacted to one player as the Angels players reacted to Eddings (the catcher rolled the ball to the mound as the inning was over, and the fielders began to leave the field.) This is the most egregious example I can think of in that an official made a call, and rescinded it without telling anyone, and cost the Angels the game in the process. If Fraser, Collins, and the other linseman saw nothing, what the hell were they conferencing over? Do they really expect us to believe that a puck that was just in Jamie Macoun's skates hit Gilmour in the face? Eddings lied that he hadn't signalled that Pierzynski was out (he make a signal for strike three, as well as batter out) and Fraser lied about seeing nothing, and lied years later about being blocked out. If he had just done nothing in the immediate aftermath, then, hey, missed calls happen, but it is obvious that he saw something that he didn't want to see. You can see it on his face in the video. He is scared shitless, which bring us to our second blown baseball call.

    The Jeffrey Maier-assisted "home run" hit by Derek Jeter in 1996 was an appalling non-call by Richie Garcia. It was as obvious as the sky being blue that it was fan interference, but Garcia didn't call it despite being right there. Why? Because he was in Yankee Stadium, fan interference is a dicey area, and it's the tough call to make. A call he completely lacked the sack to make. Fraser was in a situation that was possibly even tougher. I mean, it was late in a close, potentially series-deciding game, and it was freaking WAYNE GRETZKY. Fraser signed up to be an official to enforce the rules, but I think in this case he he was completely horrified at the prospect of making Gretzky a goat. Despite the early part of his career featuring 4 Cups, his later career (and entire foray into untapped US markets) would be marred by him costing his team a chance to make the finals by being careless with his stick at the worst possible time. Fraser didn't want the blood on his hands, so he completely choked.

    I used to ump kids baseball, and after I blew call. I stood there doing nothing knowing a ball was foul because I didn't make a call right away because I assumed the other ump would call it, and I was frozen by the reaction of the batting team and their parents to the play. I knew I didn't have the sack to make such calls and I never even thought about umping again, because if you can't unfreeze yourself and do the right thing, then you have no place in officiating. Not only did these failed officials not admit that to themselves, but Fraser and Eddings lied about it, which sickens me. I have no idea how Kerry Fraser can live with himself and keep going for 16 more years after showing the hockey world that he has no balls whatsoever.

  20. Sorry about that essay-length comment, but I'm pissed off all over again.

  21. @Paul...

    Interesting comparisons to baseball calls.

    The play I've compared it to is Alex Rodriguez slapping the ball away from a Red Sox pitcher during the 2004 ALCS. Big playoff game, superstar player, important situation, and a 100% obvious call. In that case the umps missed it initially, but then huddled up and got it right.

    Imagine they'd decided that A-Rod was too big a star to make the call against, and he'd scored the winning run a few minutes later (with all four umps claiming they were blocked on the play, even though they clearly weren't)? Bill Simmons would have written 40,000 words about it and then disappeared to live in a cave for all eternity.

  22. I am a die hard Red Sox fan, and if they had not huddled and made the correct call in that instance, I would have driven to the Bronx and gone on a killing spree. The idiot first base ump Randy Marsh never even noticed that A-Rod never even managed to touch first base aside from missing the purse slap. Also, they blew another call that they later corrected earlier in the game where Mark Bellhorn's home run, which was clearly well over the left field fence and even hit someone wearing a black hoodie square in the gut, was initially ruled it a ground rule double (?!?! It's a home run or it's in play, monkeys. Wrong all around.)

    One game, two horrible horrible calls that a team of umps had the sack to rectify in the highest pressure situation imaginable amidst the troglodytes populating Yankee Stadium. They were pelted with baseballs, and the freaking riot squad lined the bleachers to scare the crowd into behaving, but justice prevailed. If only Joe West (who I normally loathe, but his arrogance and need to be the center of attention served him well here) was refereeing a different game 6, 9 1/2 years earlier.

  23. @ Paul

    I sort of look at the Kerry Fraser moment as our Bill Buckner moment, which caused a season that had gone so well to go down the tubes.

    @ DGB

    I always wonder why we Leafs fans haven't come up with a special chant for Fraser akin to the "You screwed Bret" chants Canadian wrestling fans still chant to Vince McMahon.

  24. @furcifer...

    I've always secretly felt that Leaf fans let Fraser off easy. The fact that he can even work a game at the ACC without hearing boos is unforgivable.

  25. I had to watch the game on that fateful night (and the ensuing game 7) in that hotbed of hockey known as Southern California...a rare Leafs fan in a sea of bandwagoning surfer dudes and wannabe gangsters. At some crap sportsbar serving crap American light beer.

    Games 6 and 7 will never be forgotten. Ever.

    Nobody is saying the Leafs would have beaten Montreal in the final, but it would have been damn nice to be in a final, and that non-call was horrible.

  26. Anyone else go to the Skydome for game 7?

  27. Felix Potvin coulda easily beaten Patrick Roy.

  28. i know kerry fraser personally.

    he is a great guy and would never avoid making a call he saw.
    he is not a coward but a great ref.
    hence his status as most senior referee in the nhl.

  29. Thanks Kerry Fraser. Leaf loser nation kept down. Thank God. Heres hoping for another 16 years and more.

  30. I had never seen the play before. I had heard so much about it. What a freakin soccer dive that was. Gilmour really was a dirty player and a bad actor. Most over rated player ever.

  31. fraser has been voted best reff in the nhl by the players.

    none of you know what you're talking about

  32. since when has a highsticking penalty been 5 and a game misconduct? high sticking is 2 minute minor, 4 minute double minor if blood is drawn.

  33. since when has a highsticking penalty been 5 and a game misconduct? high sticking is 2 minute minor, 4 minute double minor if blood is drawn.

    The double-minor is the rule now. It was an automatic major in 1993.

  34. How about the fact that Doug Gilmour shouldn't have even been playing in the game since he headbutted a King the game before? Or the fact that it was a TIED game, with the Kings on the power-play, so a penalty to Gretzky would have merely made it 4-on-4. Or the fact that the Leafs were thoroughly outplayed in Game 6, down 4-1 at one point, and were lucky to even be in the game. Or the fact that they blew Game 7 at home?

    Or the fact that an organization has blundered through 44 years of mediocrity?

    Oh wait, it's Kerry Fraser's fault, I forgot.

  35. Who cares if it should of, could of, my fault. your fault...

    That was a magical year and the Leafs were fantastic! I was crushed of course when they lost but I am very happy I was around and watched that great run!

    Oh and 44 years of mediocrity??? Really? Childish comments to try to enrage the faithfuls... go away...