It’s tough not to sympathize with NHL referees sometimes. Sure, it’s frustrating when they make a marginal or downright incorrect call – especially when it’s against your team, which clearly makes that guy a conspirator – but it’s a thankless job that must be harder than it looks to outsiders.
Still, those men in striped uniforms are human, after all. Sometimes they hold foolish grudges against players (allegedly), getting in gambling trouble like the NBA’s Tim Donaghy or even get into spats with fans. Sometimes heckling can get under your skin, and if Blue Jackets fans are telling the truth, that’s exactly what happened last night.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch reports that Blue Jackets fans in section 109 claim NHL referee Paul Devorski made a “scratching motion” on his chin with his middle finger* and a crying gesture toward them during the third period of Monday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. The fans had been giving Devorski “grief” for what they felt was a missed high sticking call.
* – I prefer the forehead scratch, personally, but to each his own.
Portzline writes that 15 fans informed the newspaper regarding the situation via e-mail or Twitter. Devorski denied the claims, NHL director of officiating Terry Gregson said the league is investigating the matter and head disciplinarian Colin Campbell provided no comment regarding the incident.
Apparently fans were “on edge” all night, in part because the Wild received seven power play opportunities while the Blue Jackets had none.
“Two guys in front of us started giving the refs (grief) after they clearly missed a call,” said Ritter Hoy, who was seated five rows up from the glass in section 109. “Happens at every game, right?
“Well, the No. 10 official put his fingers up and rubbed his eyes and made a crying face, like ‘what are you going to do, cry?’ They started giving him more (grief) and he put his middle finger up to his chin and acted like he was scratching his face. It was very, very blatant. The whole section saw it and went crazy.”
No. 10 is Devorski, a 21-year NHL official who is one of the most respected officials in the business. Devorski has worked Stanley Cups since the 2001 season and the last two Olympics, including the bronze medal game in 2010 and the gold medal game in 2006. This would seem out of his character.
The crowd’s reaction last night was audible, even from the press box. I heard it and so did the two traveling writers who cover the Wild, but the reason for the disturbance was not immediately clear. Fans were on edge most of the night, because the Wild had seven power plays, while the Blue Jackets had none.
My guess is that nothing much beyond a funny story will likely come out of this, but if something does happen – from a fine, suspension or other discipline via the league – we’ll let you know.
If nothing else, it’s a testament to the fine art of heckling. Well done, Section 109.