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.

‘It’s all my fault’: Mike Babcock takes responsibility for penalty box blunder

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Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock is often regarded as the best coach in hockey, but even the best make silly mistakes sometimes.

During last night’s game between the Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, Babcock’s error forced his team to play an extra 1:54 shorthanded.

Early in the third frame, Roman Polak was given a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct for boarding Oliver Bjorkstrand (Polak is scheduled to have a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning). Instead of sending someone to the penalty box to serve the major infraction, Babcock decided to leave the box empty.

Coaches aren’t obliged to send someone to the sin bin right away. During any stoppage in play before the end of penalty, they can send someone to finish serving the infraction. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Babcock never did.

So when Polak’s five-minute major expired, the Leafs couldn’t simply throw someone onto the ice from their bench, they had to wait for a stoppage in play.

Toronto players tried to ice the puck a couple of times, but that didn’t work. So finally, Brian Boyle flipped the puck into the Columbus bench to get a whistle, but not before his team spent nearly seven straight minutes shorthanded.

They ended up winning 5-2, but they held a slim 3-2 lead at the time.

Luckily for Babcock, his penalty killers did an incredible job, as they only allowed one shot on goal throughout the kill.

After the game, he took full responsibility for what happened.

“I’m doing better now, but can you imagine?,” said the Leafs bench boss, per the Toronto Sun. “It’s all my fault, me, the two assistants on the bench, two in the video room and 15 players on the bench. And we can’t get that done right? Often it happens and you just fire a guy in the box. It could have cost you. It will never happen in my lifetime again, I will never wait to put a guy in. But our penalty kill was really good.”

PHT Morning Skate: Ovechkin will be rocking incredible custom skates for Russian Heritage Night

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–With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, we’re starting to get a better idea of who will be in and out of the playoffs. With that being said, The Hockey News put together a list of five players that could benefit from playing on another team. Devils goalie Cory Schneider is at the top of the list. Schneider’s been solid since joining New Jersey, but the team hasn’t had much success. (The Hockey News)

Erik Karlsson has always been known as an offensive defenseman, but this year, he’s made several defensive improvements to his game. The changes have made him so effective that his head coach, Guy Boucher, believes he should be in the running for a Hart Trophy. (Canadian Press)

–The Washington Capitals will be hosting a Russian Heritage Night tonight. During the pre-game warmup, Alex Ovechkin will be rocking these custom skates honoring his home land and his American home. He’ll be auctioning off the skates too. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–The New York Islanders trailed the Rangers 2-1 heading into the third period, but thanks to goals by Nikolay Kulemin and Andrew Ladd, they were able to come out on top. You can watch the highlights from last night’s “Battle of New York” by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Vegas GM George McPhee chatted with Sportsnet’s Gene Principe about being able to build a team from scratch. McPhee called the experience “fantastic” and “really neat”. He also discussed his vision for the team and how he’s approaching the expansion draft. (Sportsnet)

–The Detroit Red Wings have been a model franchise for quite some time, but they’ve on the verge of going through some pretty big changes. First, Joe Louis Arena will be closing its doors and secondly, their long playoff streak will be coming to an end this season. Sports Illustrated takes a deeper look at the old barn and the third-longest playoff streak in pro sports. (Sports Illustrated)

–Many people feel like the Calder Trophy race will come down to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but Bob McKenzie says there’s more than two worthy candidates because Zach Werenski has been equally good this season. But who is McKenzie leaning toward?

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).