Kerry Fraser admits refs use ‘makeup calls’ after questionable penalties; also, water is wet

Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser’s piece on makeup calls left me feeling a combination of smug satisfaction and mischievous glee, despite it simply stating the obvious: That referees who feel they are duped into making a bad call seek out retribution against the offending team later in the same game.

From Fraser, in his TSN mailbag:

While it is highly unlikely that a Referee would "invent" an infraction, the hard truth is that while every Referee's attempted objective is to maintain a "consistent" standard, he might alter that standard to grab a quick penalty with an eye toward fairness. If that meets your definition of an "even-up" call to compensate for an obvious mistake that has been made then so be it.

Yes, “so be it,” person who understands what an “even-up” or “make-up” call is, and that NHL referees past and present dabble in it on a nightly basis, to the detriment of the game.

Fraser continues:

I can tell you there were many times I felt my stomach in knots after being fooled on a play or calling a marginal infraction. A two minute power play seemed like an eternity when the other team pressed hard and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make it right. That means that I would not compromise the game further by "inventing" a penalty against the team on the tainted power play. If, on the other hand a 'gift horse' presented itself in the form of some infraction that could be deemed an illegal advantage gained by the team on the power play I was quick to grab it; perhaps a pick, interference or anything of the sort. If a team killed the penalty I would breathe a sigh of relief—if a power play goal was scored I gulped as the air escaped my lungs hoping my error would not affect the final outcome of the game. That is all part of being human.

Sorry, but the “we’re just humans, making mistakes and struggling for perfection” is a pathetic cover for “I’m calling the game based on my standards of fairness and equity, because someone made me look bad."

Make-up calls are a punchline for NHL fans: You can set your watch to an official “getting one back” for a team that was jobbed on a penalty. Maybe you find this to be an equitable way to balance to game; I see it as a referee deciding to call a “gift horse” penalty (in the words of Kerry Fraser), which may not be “invented” but sure as hell is a marginal call most of the time.

Deciding when to call interference based on how embarrassed the official is for making a mistake, and then ignoring the same call the rest of the game, is infuriating for fans. It makes us think they’re picking and choosing what to call based on their own standards of justice, selecting what to whistle based on the storyline in their heads.

Hey, it turns out that's exactly what they're doing.

And really, where does it end? If Kerry Fraser felt really, really embarrassed by a diving player on one team, might he seek retribution at a really, really inopportune time? Like when the other team is down a goal in the final minutes of regulation, and can get a 6-on-4 power play as a result?

I mean, what if the "gift horse" didn't leave the barn until the most critical time of the game, right?

As Fraser writes:

I ask you to give some thought as to how you would respond if you knowingly placed a team a man short through an overreaction or weak penalty call? Look deep inside yourself and evaluate your personal makeup and human nature tendencies before you respond.

As a human with human nature and a personal makeup, I would want to take out my frustrations by embarrassing the team that embarrassed me.

But then again, I’m not a paid professional tasked with leaving my biases and feuds behind in order to call the game in a fair, responsible manner, enforcing the rules the NHL has established.

Maybe it’s time we start working on those robot replacements.