Ah, the plight of a referee. It's basically one that... nobody, really, sympathizes with. Especially if you're a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. And that referee happens to be Kerry Fraser. And it's 1993.
We all know what happened May 27, 1993. Wayne Gretzky knew it; Fraser knows it too, now. But in a new piece for the Players' Tribune - one that details the life of a referee (and, in fact, gives you quite a fair amount of respect for the good ones; the good people) - Fraser explains just what, exactly, led to his non-call.
Gretzky gets the puck. He shoots it, and my eyes go to the net. But Jamie Macoun blocks it. The puck rebounds between Gretzky and Doug Gilmour. When my eyes go back to Gretzky, I see a motion. Gilmour goes down. Did Gretzky’s stick follow through and catch him? Gilmour’s bent over now. He’s got blood on his chin.
And I have no idea what happened. That’s a helpless, helpless feeling. Under the 1993 rules, if Gretzky high-sticks Gilmour and it draws blood, it’s a five-minute major. He’s gone. It was a huge call to make — a worse one to miss.
From there, he takes in the players' body language. He consults his linesmen. But nobody specifically saw anything, so Fraser wasn't going to call something he didn't see. As such: no penalty, and he thought it was the right call at the time.
That genuinely very much stings - but it was also over 20 years ago, and there's not much that can be done now, other than appreciate the honesty.
But the rest of the piece is sincerely worth a read. From Fraser's own wish to play in the NHL, to his physical battles, to the opening stories regarding Theo Fleury, a player who could cause more trouble than most: it's a fantastic look at that world.
Even if there was that one missed call.