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.

A hand injury will force Alex Steen to miss the rest of training camp

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Here’s some more bad news if you’re a fan of the St. Louis Blues.

On Wednesday morning, the team announced that veteran forward Alex Steen will miss the rest of training camp because of a left hand injury.

The 33-year-old suffered the injury during last night’s 5-3 preseason loss to the Dallas Stars. Steen will be re-evaluated in three weeks time, according to the release sent out by the team.

The veteran forward has been hit hard by injuries throughout his career. He hasn’t played more than 80 games since the 2008-09 season. Last year, he missed only six games, but he’s been out for 43 contests over the last four seasons.

The Blues open the season in Pittsburgh on Oct. 4.

It’s been a rough training camp for the Blues so far, as they’ve already lost forward Zach Sanford (shoulder surgery) for 5-6 months and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (fractured ankle) is also expected to be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Video: Patrick Marleau scored a beauty in his Leafs debut

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It didn’t take Patrick Marleau long to score a goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yea, it’s the preseason, but it’s still nice to see him adapt to his new surroundings.

Going into Tuesday’s game, the veteran admitted that a new beginning in a new city was exciting, but he didn’t seem stressed by it.

“I wouldn’t say nervous, but definitely some excitement,” Marleau told TSN.ca before the game.

“There’s that energy of something new … you’re not sure how everything’s going to go so you try to stay within yourself.”

He did a pretty good job staying within himself.

With the Leafs trailing 1-0 in the first period of their game against the Ottawa Senators, Marleau entered the Sens zone on the right side and roofed a wrist shot past Mike Condon.

 

“He scored a goal,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said, per Sportsnet. “He made a real nice play – he backchecked all the way, he slowed the guy down, he gave our D time, he pushed the pace, he wired it under the bar – I mean Patty was fine.”

Hockey world supports Brian Boyle in his battle against cancer

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On Tuesday, Brian Boyle announced that he had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.

As scary as the news must have been for him to hear, Boyle showed the hockey world that he’s going to have a positive outlook on this situation.

“I feel very fortunate and very blessed,” Boyle said, per NHL.com. “We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of prayers, and if there’s anything I can ask it’s that that continues. That is something that I’ve seen firsthand heal cancers and heal situations that are said to be untreatable. For us, we’re in a good spot. We think we have a good plan of attack here and I’m looking forward to getting on the ice and playing.

Immediately, players, teams and fans began sending him messages of support. It’s incredible to see what the hockey community can do when it comes together.

Boyle has already stated that he plans on being in the Devils lineup on opening night.

Jaromir Jagr’s open to many things, but not retirement or a tryout

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Yes, Jaromir Jagr is 45-years-old. He’ll turn 46 in February.

So, yes, even for a fitness freak like Jagr, it’s likely that he’d probably not be the best fit for a team that plays at a frenetic pace. To get the most out of the living legend, a team would have to provide a nurturing environment. There are also questions about what sort of role he’d accept and how much money he’d settle for.

Even with all of those disclaimers under consideration, it’s maddening that we’re in late September and Jagr continues to put out semi-sarcastic cry for help videos.

So, what’s the latest on Jagr, then?

Well, to some extent, it’s useful to consider the process of elimination.

Sports-Express’ Igor Eronko reports that Jagr is open-minded about the KHL, though the NHL is first choice. Jagr acknowledged that participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics would be a draw in the process.

One thing he isn’t open to: a PTO with an NHL team.

While there’s actually some logic to a tryout – teams might want to see how well he can move/what kind of immediate chemistry Jagr could find – it does seem a little … demeaning to a first-ballot Hall of Famer who, frankly, is still producing solid numbers.

Eronko reports that Jagr said he’s talking to three-to-four teams, while Pierre LeBrun reports that two-to-three NHL teams are speaking with Jagr’s reps in the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading.

(Hey, both could be correct if Jagr’s including KHL suitors in his estimate.)

LeBrun also notes the idea Jagr is ruling out, beyond a PTO: retirement.

Jagr doesn’t want to hang up his skates, even if it means not playing in the NHL, which would bum out a slew of hockey fans (raises hand).

Naturally, there are creative “have your cake and eat it too” scenarios. Perhaps Jagr could sign a KHL contract with an NHL out clause of some kind, playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and then ink a deal with a contender who a) he wants to play for and b) is now convinced he still “has it?”

There are plenty of possibilities, and many of them are fun to think about.

Jagr needing to try out for a team – or worse, retire – is not so fun to think about.