There was a huge scandal during the 1993 playoffs, and I completely missed it
But I'm not talking about McSorley's Stick.
There's another outrage, one that -- despite being a Kings fan for the last several decades -- I only became aware of in the last few months. I'm pretty sure I should be embarrassed by this.
It involves game 6 of the conference finals against Toronto. Now, I was at this game, sitting a few yards from the incident in question. But, since I was there, I never saw a replay of the game, not to mention that the incident barely registered with me when I was there. I remember thinking, "oh did Gilmour get clipped, oh I hope not, oh good, no call -- he seems angry." Which coincidentally is pretty much the same reaction Toronto fans had.
Here's the CBC feed, courtesy of the great Down Goes Brown:
Down Goes Brown describes it as "one of the most controversial plays in NHL history." DGB has two other clips related to the "incident." First, a delightful one where the NHL explains the non-call and the CBC guy (whose name I'm probably supposed to know but don't, since I haven't watched HNiC since Dick Irvin Jr) asks if there should be or will be "retribution" against the refs who missed the call (and I think he's talking about from the league).
(NHL's official explanation of Kerry Fraser's missed call against Wayne Gretzky via DownGoesBrown)
Then, Don Cherry's reaction:
I can't say I really disagree with Cherry's analysis if indeed I fully understood it through my own heaving sobs, due entirely to the fact that I cannot look at Don Cherry, hear his voice or picture him in my mind without flashing back to this:
[historical footnote: I started playing and following hockey because of Bobby Orr. I grew up in Michigan but the Wings games weren't televised on a channel I could get, and Bruins games were frequently featured on the NBC game of the week, or whatever they called it, so I was a Bruin fan growing up, until I grew up and moved to Los Angeles, not that you need to know any of that. I just wanted to explain the tears.]
DGB has written a couple of great posts on this topic. Here's some of the first one:
One of the (many) things that fans of other teams don't understand about Leaf fans is why we're still so angry about the Fraser non-call. After all, who's to say the Leafs would have scored on the powerplay? Who's to say the Kings wouldn't have won anyways? Bad calls happen, it's been 15 years, just let it go.
This is why we're still angry. This is why we know that non-call cost us a spot in the Finals. Because anyone who watched that game knows, without question, that Wendel Clark was going to score the winner. The Kings couldn't stop him that night. Nobody could have.
Forget the powerplay. The Leafs just needed one more even-stregth shift. And they didn't get it, because when it came time to make the biggest call of his career, Kerry Fraser choked on his whistle.
After a career of false starts and bad backs and bad luck and terrible teams and blood and bruises, after all the hours on the trainer's table, after all the fights with guys twice his size, Wendel Clark finally had a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, and he responded with arguably the greatest game ever played by a Maple Leaf.
This was his moment. This was what everything had been building towards. And Kerry Fraser took it away.
So yeah, we're still a little cranky about that.
And here's some from the follow-up, a post entitled Happy Kerry Fraser Day!:
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?
Kerry Fraser Day is apparently celebrated on May 27. I am happy to celebrate it, presumably by not punishing my son for something I saw him do, or by otherwise not noticing something I noticed. I'm glad to know the date, actually (like it would have been hard to look up). It was my second date with my future wife, the first being game six of the previous series, which the Kings also won. Mostly, I remember my wife's comment, leaving the Forum amid a crowd of still cheering, ecstatic Kings fans, "Hockey is great, because you always think you're going to lose and then you come back and win in the end! It's terrifying and then it's exciting!!" Her first two games. I tried to explain that it wasn't always like that. We were set to go to game six of the finals, too, but of course we never got that far. And the Kings never had a moment like that again. And, no, not even in 2001.
Here's my question: not having seen this game on TV, and now, only having seen the CBC feed, and there not having been blogs or the internet back then to archive the moment forever, I have no idea how this incident was perceived by Kings fans. I have no idea how many Kings fans even know about it. I'm curious to find out what people think. Has everyone had this in their collective narrative but me? Do Kings fans think the Toronto reaction was silly? Or do they/we agree?
Coming to the party late, I think it should have been called. But I also think the cop in the Montreal Forum shouldn't have let Habs personnel on the Kings bench to measure sticks.
The Fraser non-call:
|I'm a Kings fan and I never heard of it.||16|
|I'm a Kings fan. I remember it. They should have called it, but who knows what difference it would have made?||14|
|I'm a Kings fan and I remember it. Fraser made the right call.||6|
|I'm a Kings fan. I remember it. I always thought we got away with one.||15|
|I'm a Leafs fan, I think we were robbed, but it's been 17 years. I'm over it.||12|
|I'm a Leafs fan and I think we were robbed and I'm still mad.||41|