Last Thursday, I met referee Tim Peel at a pub in New York City. On one stool was a referee that many cite as one of the worst in the business, and on the other was a writer that maligned him quite often, to the point where we rated his blown calls with Mario Kart banana peels.
Many of you read about that meeting in this Puck Daddy story, and for that I thank you. It was a meeting that could have gone a dozen different, more contentious ways, but Peel’s a good guy who genuinely wanted for me to learn more about where he’s coming from and vice versa; and in turn, to enlighten critics of NHL referees about why they do what they do.
Yes, we drank. It was an off-night for both of us. The tequila shot image seen here was something Peel encouraged me to post online after I asked him, and he did the same when it came to a story about our meeting the following day. He wanted this all out there. It was an informal, on the record chat; we went off the record when discussing more sensitive topics.
To call it one of the more well-received stories we’ve done here would be an understatement, and again I thank you for that. But I knew Peel putting himself out there could have some repercussions with the NHL. I hoped they wouldn’t, but I figured they could. Like I said to him at our meeting: If the NHL took any action on this, it goes from being a quirky human interest story to Big Hockey News. It would blow up in their faces.
As far as I can gather: They were steamed about the drinking photo moreso than anything in the story.
(Because, you know, Peel is the only on-ice official to have road beverages on an off-night.)
So the photo hit Twitter, and the story hit the blog, and the NHL pulled Peel from a scheduled gig refereeing the New Jersey Devils’ game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night. He was, however, back on the ice on Saturday for the New York Rangers’ game at MSG.
Once more, with feeling: He missed one game as a slap on the wrist but was working again 24 hours later.
A few people took notice. I didn’t see it necessary to poke the bear on this, out of respect to Peel and because being the center of the story you cover is never exactly high on a journalist's to-do list; besides, he was working the following day.
Then on Monday, 98.5 Sports in Montreal, a French-language sports radio station, reported that Peel had been “suspended indefinitely” due to our meeting. (Well, they reported a meeting with a “fan” but that’s the least of our factual concerns.) They referenced his getting pulled from the Devils game, but not that he worked the following night.
Which is, you know, a fairly salient fact when you’re reporting someone was suspended “indefinitely.” In the sense that it could then be defined as “one game.”
Anyway, we figured we’d root out where the bad reporting originated, and it originated with Ron Fournier, a radio host who used to be a National Hockey League referee. Here’s reader Andre Trahan’s translation of their segment:
Host Mario Langlois : …news about referees, Tim Peel finds himself in a dicey situation following an article on a blog, Greg Wyshinski’s blog, not sure if I pronounce his name correctly [almost pronounced it correctly the “h” was barely there], tell us the story. He happened to have a drink with a blogger
Ron Fournier : Wyzinski, Wyzinski, he’s not a guy people know about. He writes a blog, it’s called Puck Daddy. And he, he trashed – he trashes everybody, he trashes everybody – and for a couple of years he has been trashing Tim Peel.
ML : He’s done it for a while, right?
RF : Tim Peel meets him in a bar. Fooly’s Pub in New York between two games. Wednesday, he’s in Washington, Friday he’s in New Jersey. He meets him, speaks to him, tells him a little how it works. They take a picture. Of course “chin-chin” (cheers! In French). A little shot. A little pic. Bang bang. The next day, Puck Daddy, the little baby, the smartass, writes an article. He explains who Tim Peel really is. And Peel says more than he should.
ML : But Peel knows the guy is not kind to him.
RF : He tries to become his friend.
ML : To get him on his side.
RF : So he has a game the next day. He receives a call : “You’re not working. You’re suspended. You’re not going to New Jersey. [Seems he is talking about the Friday night game between NJ and Pittsburgh?]
ML : What is the reason of his suspension? What did he do wrong, besides being trashed by a blogger? After the break… Can he take drink with a writer
RF : Major, major.
ML : We’re back…
RF : Tim Peel, I was reading the article on Puck Daddy…
ML : For those just joining us…
RF : Tim is an NHL referee…
ML : Not the most popular, by the way.
RF : Not the most popular. For some years he’s been criticized. Particularly the last few years. Since 2008, he’s severely criticized. He worked the last Olympics in Sochi. Now, there’s a guy named, it’s not important, Greg Wyzhinski, writes on Puck Daddy. He trashes him and trashes him and trashes him. And then they meet in a bar, because Peel worked Wednesday in Washington. Thursday, he finds himself in New York, because Friday he’s in New Jersey.
ML : The guy (?) knows there’s a chance he’ll be there, if I get it right.
RF : Right. So Fooly’s [that’s how they pronounced it], Tim is there and the guy that writes for that site. A “tout trempe” [referring to you, literally an all-wet, it’s a pejorative term, but I don’t really know what he means by it]. They see each other. Peel knows he trashes him regularly. He tells him “Sit down, we’ll have a drink.” There is a photo on the website with shots, a little shooter, you know. The smile. Both of them. They get close for the pic. The guy gets closer to Peel than Peel gets close to him. During that, the guy says Peel told him “Let me tell you about this… let me tell you about that.” Tim unveils certain things, like sometimes when it’s 1-1, you don’t always give penalties, because the League doesn’t want that, and be careful. You know, he’s been in the NHL for 15 years. Tim is sincere. The guys asks him “why haven’t you worked a final in 15 years?” He tells him it’s because there are better than me. He answers good questions, but at some point he goes off and the other guy interprets it and writes about it. That’s Thursday night. On Friday morning , it’s everywhere. In New York. Peel receives a call. “We tell you to not speak to journalists. We tell you to be careful. What’s all that about, the drink in hand, the shooter.” Look at the photo. You know Mario [the host] how I tell you, photos for me now, I stand straight like a sequoia. So that’s it the League tells him he’s suspended. Don’t even go work the game in New Jersey. Tonight, tomorrow night. [He is confused about which night they tell him to skip, sounds like it could be the Friday night game].
ML: For how long? Indefinitely?
RF : I don’t know yet.
ML : Is it a real serious mistake?
RF : It’s a very serious mistake.
ML : Was it the journalist who was dishonest?
RF : Journalist dishonest. Who cares about the journalist. We can’t even spell his name.
ML : Even then, Peel knows who he is dealing with. He knows the guy gets on him every chance he gets. Peel wasn’t really wary of him. It’s a story à la “Linda Bourque in Lance et Compte” [hockey soap opera in Quebec that used to be a big deal in the eighties, but is now a big joke in its latest reboots].
RF : You know, when you’re a good guy. Peel is a good guy. I’m not saying he’s a good referee. And he sees a dumbass that has trashed him several times. A given night, he tells himself I’ll try to explain to him, become friendlier. He’s really honest about it. The other one remains a rat and dishonest. He’ll be a rat all his life. He made an error. You got close to that guy instead of ignoring him. In life, sometimes people hold personal grudges or look at you the wrong way or write or say things about you, you are better off ignoring them. And that’s what the NHL wants.
That is why we’ve had this discussion, why can’t refs talk after games?
ML: Maybe it would help avoid little traps like this one in a dive in the middle of nowhere. Yet I understand the league, the more you explain…
RF : Do your job, shut your mouth, go home, pack the kids, and go do your next game.
ML : A company president once told me “let it die.” If you talk about it, you let the story linger.
My super-challenging last name and my being a lifelong “dishonest rat” aside, you can see where this story begins to smell like the hindquarters of a baudet. Fournier can’t do the basic reporting to find out that Peel worked 24 hours after his “indefinite” suspension, and the story gets blown out of proportion.
None of this would have happened if the NHL didn’t feel it necessary to pull him from the game. It was a short-sighted, C.O.A. move that ended up pouring a jug of gas on the fire, as the Canadian media’s ablaze today about it.
At worst, it reinforces the myopic micro-managing of officials that leaves so many fans and media frustrated, when we know that a little more candor about their jobs would go a long way. At best, maybe one or two people that haven't seen the human side of Tim Peel will see it now.
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