Kerry Fraser reflects on 18th anniversary of missing Wayne Gretzky’s high-stick on Doug Gilmour

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Just about any tortured fan base has its iconic moment of despair. Before they won two World Series and became a slightly cheaper version of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox looked back at the Bill Buckner error in disgust. Cleveland Browns fans shudder to think of Earnest Byner’s fumble. Buffalo sports fans have “wide right” and Brett Hull’s foot in the crease.

Sometimes those moments revolve around self-inflicted wounds (see: Don Cherry’s “too many men on the ice” flub) while others focus on mistakes made by different parties. For many success-starved Toronto Maple Leafs fans, one infamous missed high-sticking penalty still causes serious discomfort.

In case you’re not a Maple Leafs (or Los Angeles Kings) fan, here’s the basic rundown. It was Game 6 of the Campbell Conference finals and Kings superstar Wayne Gretzky caught Leafs star Doug Gilmour with a high stick. Yet in what has been called the “most controversial call in Leafs history,” referee Kerry Fraser did not call a penalty on Gretzky. Moments later, Gretzky scored the winning power-play goal in overtime to send the series to a Game 7 that the Kings ultimately won. (Check out this amusing slice of broadcasting history, as Don Cherry discussed whether or not it was a “conspiracy” to get Gretzky’s Kings in the Cup finals.)

While the moment shares some interesting parallels to the Chicago Cubs’ Steve Bartman incident,* there’s little doubt that it was a missed call. Kerry Fraser was the official who ultimately made the call not to give Gretzky that penalty, a moment that made him the target of derision from Maple Leafs fans for nearly two decades.

Fraser admitted that he made the wrong call in his regular column with TSN, discussing how that call affected his life and the fact that he still hears about it to this day.

Every year, right up to my final season as a referee in the NHL I was contacted by the media on this day and asked to rehash the play.  They always ran with it and feelings were dredged up from old wounds that have never healed; especially from those that harbour hatred towards me.

(snip)

The helplessness of not knowing for sure what had just occurred as Doug Gilmour dabbed blood from his chin and prevented it from staining the Fabulous Forum ice lingers in my memory.  While I don’t carry it with me like “luggage,” the baggage that many a Leafs fan continually pack, makes it impossible for the memory to ever go away.  After all it was only 18 short years ago!  Perhaps more time is required to close the wound?

Fraser said that he discussed the non-call with Gilmour, who was willing to let the mistake go.

Instead, please allow me to share with you a quote that Doug Gilmour gave to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun on the occasion of my last game worked in the Air Canada Centre on March 27, 2010. Your captain said, “Please let it go.  It’s over.  The man’s retiring. For the sake of his sanity, let it go.”

Perhaps GM Brian Burke can put together a team that will help Leafs fans put that long-ago controversy behind them, then? Sometimes winning does a better job of healing wounds than time ever will.

* – Bartman caught a foul ball that could have been the last out of the eighth inning for the Chicago Cubs in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Cubs outfielder Moises Alou grew livid after Bartman caught the ball and it seemed like things fell apart for the Cubs after that. Yet while people depicted Bartman as the cause for the team’s meltdown, it’s important to note that Chicago had a 3-2 series lead and 3-0 Game 6 lead over the Florida Marlins at that point. Bartman didn’t cause the Cubs to give up that lead or lose Game 7 just like Fraser wasn’t at fault for the rest of the Leafs’ shortcomings, but in sports with such a small margin of error – and within fan bases that are so tormented – it’s understandable that those moments are such taboo subjects.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Blues

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This week’s edition of NBCSN’s Rivalry Night will feature a central division clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

It’s still early days, but the two sides are battling atop the Central, with the Blackhawks powered by great starts from a number of players including Brandon Saad and Ryan Hartman. The Blues, meanwhile, are looking to halt a two-game skid after winning their first four games of the season. The game also features the return of NHL on NBC analyst Ed Olczyk to the booth.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Blues get Alexander Steen back against Blackhawks

Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk’s ‘best medicine’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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Former NHL agent Stacey McAlpine charged in fraud case

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Former NHL agent Stacey McAlpine has been charged with fraud in a case involving former Ottawa Senators players Dany Heatley and Chris Phillips.

Winnipeg police said Wednesday that the 54-year-old McAlpine bilked Heatley and Phillips out of $12 million between January 2004 and June 2011. McAlpine is charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000, two counts of theft over $5,000 and laundering proceeds of crime.

Heatley and Phillips sued McAlpine and McAlpine’s parents, claiming money was being invested in unapproved real estate deals, including an Ottawa condominium. CTV Calgary has reported that Heatley was awarded more than $6 million by an Alberta court.

Rask hurt in Bruins practice; Spooner out 4-6 weeks

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Well, the good news regarding injuries and the Boston Bruins didn’t last very long.

Earlier this week, PHT noted that forwards Patrice Bergeron and David Backes are expected to return in the near future, possibly as soon as Thursday. That’s great, but Wednesday turned out to be lousy thanks to one injury scare and one sure-thing that’s a negative.

The biggest concern is that of Tuukka Rask, and it’s something that might not clear up for a while. Rask was helped off the ice during practice today after being “bowled over” by young forward Anders Bjork.

The Bruins might dodge a bullet there, which would be huge if their backup work in anyway resembles the woes of 2016-17.

While we don’t know the severity of Rask’s issues just yet, there’s flat-out bad news for Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins estimate Spooner’s window of recovery at four-to-six weeks for a (cringe) “right groin adductor tear,” which he suffered on Oct. 15. Adam McQuaid suffered an injury in that same contest, so that could go down as a costly date for a Bruins team that has been fairly described as top-heavy.

Spooner, 25, was off to a slow start so far this season. He didn’t score a goal and managed one assist in five games, averaging 13:17 TOI per game. Even during that time, he was deployed in a very protected way, so the B’s can’t really claim that this is more than a body blow.

Even so, the Bruins might sport a patchwork lineup if Bergeron and/or Backes can’t play on Thursday. They’ll likely chalk it up as a win if Rask avoids anything significant, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Grim times for Canadiens: Price struggles, surgery for Schlemko

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Forgive the Montreal Canadiens if they feel beleaguered heading into Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings (which is part of NBCSN’s doubleheader).

After another captivating-but-polarizing summer of changes thanks to GM Marc Bergevin, the spotlight shone a little brighter on the Habs to start. Such magnification made it tough to hide the blemishes of what’s now a 1-4-1 start, even if abysmal luck takes the ugliness to an unrealistic extreme.

If getting beaten down in the local papers and in conventional wisdom didn’t leave them staggering, the Habs are also closing off a back-to-back set after dropping a fifth game in a row via last night’s loss to San Jose.

The hits keep on coming, too, with news that an already-shaky defense corps will lack savvy free agent addition David Schlemko for an estimated three-to-four weeks following hand surgery.

You know things are dreary when one of the more positive bits revolves around starting Al Montoya instead of Carey Price.

It’s true, though, that Montoya’s the right choice here. Most obviously, Price played last night, and you don’t want to lean too hard on any goalie, even one who will begin to cost $10M per season in 2018-19.

Price check

Price’s struggles feel like a microcosm of what this team is going through, as a whole, right now.

In the short term, it’s difficult to imagine things remaining this abhorrent both for the star goalie and his struggling team.

Price’s save percentage stands at .885 so far this season; he’s never been below .905 for a campaign. A 3.56 GAA won’t persist for a netminder who’s never averaged anything above 2.83 (and that was almost a decade ago).

The Canadiens are still easily the worst team in the NHL in both shooting percentage and save percentage perspectives at even-strength. They’re doing so despite grading well by Natural Stat Trick’s various metrics, including getting a friendly percentage of high-danger scoring chances (their fellow dour would-be contenders, the Oilers, feel their pain).

So, a lot of those patterns will just sort of work themselves out naturally.

Still, there are some nagging concerns.

Price already turned 30, and his new, massive cap hit hasn’t even kicked in yet. While goalies have a decent track record of aging more gracefully than, say, snipers, Price’s history of knee issues provides some worry.

Even if he continues to be Carey Price in italics, there really isn’t a great comparable for his contract (Henrik Lundqvist‘s is the closest, according to Cap Friendly). Montreal could serve as a guinea pig for other NHL teams pondering building around an expensive goalie.

Growing pains or signs of a fall?

There are also unsettling questions about Bergevin’s vision, and the way Julien uses players.

Bergevin’s win-now mentality is the source of plenty of debate, but it’s objectively clear that many of his moves have made the Habs older. Shea Weber‘s considerably older than P.K. Subban, and even very young Jonathan Drouin is a grizzled veteran compared to Mikhail Sergachev.

Re-signing Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t ended that saga, and the Habs can’t just blame the media, either.

At the moment, Galchenyuk ranks ninth in even-strength ice time average among Canadiens forwards. He’s currently slated for fourth-line duty alongside Torrey Mitchell and Ales Hemsky.

If the goal is to eventually trade him, this is a backwards way of doing so. If the goal is to “send him a message,” there seems to be a better time than when your team isn’t exactly setting nets on fire like “NBA Jam.”

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When you break things down issue by issue, it’s reasonable to expect better times. Still, it’s tough to shake the worrying signs overall, whether you’re just looking at 2017-18 or beyond.

Things could at least look a little sunnier if Montreal can dig deep and come out of this California trip with a win or two.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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