Not exactly a “top 10″, because there are some refs I simply haven’t watched enough to judge properly, but here are a quick list of referees I most want to see in the playoffs this year, and a second list of referees I think are on the bottom of my “most wanted” list.
(and a quick note: given that it takes a ref a couple of years to really get their game legs, anyone on my bottom list with < 100 games in the league is considered on probation. anyone with > 200 games? it’s probably time to rethink your career)
My top refs:
Don Van Massenhoven: With Steve Walkom retired, I think the best ref in the league. Handles a game well, calls it without screwing up the flow of the game more than necessary, works well with the players, doesn’t get intimidated or frustrated. He is in many ways a model for the “new” NHL ref: his personality doesn’t leak into the game much, he’s not intimidated by players or coaches, he keeps a fairly level head and doesn’t let his temper affect the game, but he takes little crap and he’s not afraid to make a gut call at a key time, and he gives the players the leeway to play the game, but if you watch games he refs, they devolve into chaos or fightfests a lot less than other refs.
Kerry Fraser: Best positioning among the refs, always in a good position to see the play. Fraser has two negatives: first, he’s got a distinctive personality, the strongest personality on the reffing circuit now that Paul Stewart’s retired, and he does make mistakes (all refs do, of course. *gasp*) — but when Kerry makes a mistake, it tends to be a huge blooper; mistakes that get remembered. The thing I find amusing is if you listen to the fans on TV, or travel around the arenas, Fraser is just as strongly disliked in every arena in the league, and the fans will tell you he’s “got it in” for their team. To me, that’s actually an indication he’s doing something right… There isn’t another ref I’d rather have in a game 7.
Rob Shick: San Jose gets ol’ “Shickhead” at San Jose a lot, because he’s based out in California (Rancho Murieta). This year, he broke his foot and was out for a while, and we got to see Shick in all his “I’ve been on the golf course for weeks” racoon-tan glory when he came back; he nearly glowed in the dark. I may be the only fan in San Jose arena that doesn’t mind seeing Schick show up; I remember (sigh, I’m getting old) when he was a young and struggling baby ref, back in the Cow Palace days. Today, he’s a good, solid veteran ref that’s capable and consistent.
Don Koharski: are you surprised to see veteran refs at the top of the list? You shouldn’t. You might be surprised to see Koharski on the list, though. But you shouldn’t. He’s had his struggles and some visible problems (no donut jokes, please) — but he’s put those behind him, except in the minds of fans who never forgive, much less forget. Like Schick he’s a solid and stable veteran who knows the game and tries to keep it rolling, but not let it fall off the cliff.
Kelly Sutherland: best skater among the refs; Laurie swears he’s got a figure skating background. Better skater than many NHLers, and a pretty good ref as well. The best of the younger refs with < 300 games (first NHL game 2000). When I went through the games I remembered as well-reffed this last season, Sutherland's name was the one that showed up most often other than the four veterans above.
Wes McAuley: one of the new generation of refs, ex Michigan hockey, played in the minors and italy, then recruited into reffing. Very young (< 50 games in the NHL), but the kind of ref the NHL is recruiting these days, and shows some real potential. We'll have to see how he matures.
My “not so favorite” refs:
Shane Heyer: is by far the ref we most want to NOT see in san jose, which is a problem, since he’s based in Vancouver and does the west coast a lot. One of the two refs who promoted from linesman when the NHL went to the two ref system (the other was Jay Scharrers, who went back to being a linesman), Shane was a pretty good linesman, and as a ref, generally out of his league. He shows both a tendency to be out of position (causing either a non-call, or a bad call based on seeing the end of the action, not the actual infraction, so he calls a lot of dives as penalties, and also a lot of trips where a player fell down. He should probably go back to being a linesman. Also has problems calling games consistently (the holy trinity of bad reffing: falling for dives, missing the play, and calling it inconsistently!)
Mike Hasenfratz: two really young refs, so they still have some ability to come up to speed, but they epitomize the problems refs have trying to ref in the NHL: the fall for dives, they’re inconsistent, they get out of position (or interrupt play by getting in the way), and just generally looking like they’re struggling to keep up with and manage the game. Now, it should be said: the same was true of both Rob Shick and Steve Walkom when they were baby refs (and Walkom might remember that one of his first NHL games ever reffed was in San Jose, and it was very memorable, if not good — San Jose fans carried a grudge (and signs offering free eye exams) for a couple of years after that — yet Walkom turned into one of the best refs in the league… The two-ref system is designed, in part, to help younger refs handle the NHL speed and intensity, but even so, the first 50 games by ANY ref are going to be an adventure…)
Mick McGeough: The good news is that when Mick McGeough keeps his temper under control, he’s a really good, veteran ref. The bad news is: when is the last time you saw a game he reffed when he didn’t lose his temper? And when McGeough gets mad, he gets flakey. I won’t go so far as to say he takes it out on the team that pissed him off — more than he loses his ability to be patient and let the play and intensity develop, and once he’s started that red flush on the neck and the stiff back, teams are best advised to just keep their yaps shut and play hockey. Not that they do. It’s a weird situation: when he gets angry, he doesn’t get vindictive, he merely gets — twitchy — makes snap calls, bad calls, too many calls. And both teams face his wrath. And there are certain players that seem to have permanently hit his “not on my christmas card” list; Laurie and I used to have an over/under on when Bryan Marchment would get his first penalty — now, the joke is that during TV time outs, McGeough skates over the the bench, grabs the phone, and wherever Calgary is playing, Marchment suddenly takes a two minute roughing call. It was our feeling that if McGeough could start the game with Marchment in the box, it might save everyone time and energy….
Paul Devorski: When I went through my list of games I went to and saw this year, and double-checked the ones I remembered as badly reffed — Devorski was the veteran ref most often involved. On the other hand, unlike someone like Mick McGeough, there isn’t a single tendency or problem that stands out to me; it’s just that games he refs just aren’t handled all that well. I guess if you really want to make me miserable, just pair up Devorski and Heyer (or Hasenfrazt) and send them to San Jose for a key series…
And my nominee for worst-reffed game of the year: April 13, 2006, Vancouver @ San Jose, where the calls were random and brutal (and before you look, the sharks won, and the brutality was random, not aimed at either team). Our winners of this year’s “tripped on the blue line” award: Paul Devorski and Marc Joannette.
(maybe next year I’ll feel up to more detailed critique’s of refs like I did years ago; we’ll see. I kinda miss it, but to do it right takes a lot of work. )