Guest Author: A Very Zebra Thanksgiving

On rare occasion, we’ve featured a guest author here on MayorsManor.  Today, we present a special Thanksgiving day piece by Scott Coffman. For the last few years he’s been part of The Fourth Period Radio show and in between booking guests, he contributes articles to their magazine as well.

With the holidays right around the corner and today being (American) Thanksgiving, it’s time to give credit to those who have one of the hardest jobs in the NHL. No, it’s not Sidney Crosby’s concussion specialists, but the referees and linesman that keep control of every game and who are some of the most under-appreciated people in all of hockey.

We have to give thanks to referee Kelly Sutherland. His first NHL game was actually in Los Angeles on December 19, 2000. Since then, he’s become one of the league’s top officials, as evidenced by being only one of three guys selected to officiate the last two Stanley Cup Finals – along with Dan O’Halloran and Stephen Walkom. Sutherland gained some notoriety last year during his appearances in HBO’s 24/7 Penguins vs Capitals series. In this video clip (warning, NSFW language), he’s shown taking the time to explain a call to Penguins’ defenseman Brooks Orpik. While not every player may agree with the decisions made on the ice, strengthening communication goes a long way towards mutual understanding and developing a good player-referee relationship. It’s also been announced that Sutherland will be wearing a microphone for tomorrow’s nationally televised ‘Thanksgiving Showdown’ between Detroit and Boston.

We also have to give thanks to the above mentioned Walkom. The 48-year old referee took the NHL’s Director of Officiating position the year after the NHL Lockout. However, it didn’t suit him – and according to some reports, a few officials even had problems with him being in charge. After stepping down, presumably because of the lack of veteran officials in the NHL, he went back on the ice. At first, there were a couple of disastrous miscalls(see this video), then he found his groove and went back to being one of the highest ranked officials. With the NHL constantly striving to improve the way we look at the game, they often strap a microphone on Walkom. For example, he wore a microphone for Game 4 of the Tampa Bay-Washington series last season (video), as well as the Stanley Cup Finals (video).  For some more fun from 24/7, check out this video from inside the referee’s locker room.

We need to be thankful for referee Paul Devorski as well. When Bill McCreary retired, Devorski became the senior referee in the NHL. With over 1300 games officiated, ‘Devo’ is known for calling a fair game. He’s just about seen it all too. For example, he was the lone referee back in the infamous 1997 game between Detroit and Colorado, where Darren McCarty finally got revenge on Claude Lemieux. He admits his biggest mistake that night was not throwing McCarty out of the game. If you want a two-sided view of this game, pick up either Adrian Dater’s book Blood Feud or the incredibly long titled Between the Lines: Not-So-Tall Tales from Ray “Scampy” Scapinello’s Four Decades in the NHL. Both talk about this game in detail. Apparently, good officiating runs in the family, as Paul’s brother Greg is one of the better linesman in the league.

We should also be thankful for the insight of retired official Kerry Fraser. His “C’mon, Ref” column on TSN.com is one of the best reads you’ll find on the internet today. While taking questions from fans, Fraser brings an advanced knowledge of the rule book and is able to explain how an official may see a play. He also spends time clarifying some of the more complicated NHL rules. Thus, it’s a must read for any die hard hockey fan wanting to understand the finer points of the game.

Finally, let’s give thanks to linesman Thor Nelson. First off, his name is Thor – which is just awesome! Besides that, Thor has been an official in the NHL since 1995. Numerous times, I’ve seen Thor, in between commercial breaks at Staples Center, throw pucks over the glass to kids in the stands. Little things like this go a long way with fan relations. On a more personal note, my favorite Thor moment was captured on CBC when they got a little too up close and personal (video). Behold the power of Thor!

Anyone remember what happened in 1983? I sure don’t. But, Dan Schachte was working his first NHL game as a linesman. It’s impressive that for almost 30 years, Schachte has been watching over games in the NHL. We need to all be thankful for Schachte dedicating that much of his time to the NHL and the game of hockey.

Being an NHL official is not an easy job. Besides the constant grind of being on the road, you’re tasked with actually having to officiate one of the most difficult sports on earth. It’s time that we take a moment and thank these guys for the vital role they play in our favorite game.

For more from Scott, follow all the random thoughts he brings from his head to twitter at @spikec20.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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