When I say "stolen game" in the title of this blog I don't specifically mean tonight's game was stolen from Trail. I certainly don't mean to denigrate how the Alberni Valley Bulldogs played. They're a very talented team who absolutely could beat any team in the BCHL on most nights.
Instead I mean tonight's game between the Smoke Eaters and Alberni Valley Bulldogs was stolen from both teams and the fans.
Referee Steven Bratt called 20 minor penalties during tonight's game. That's 40 minutes of minor penalties in a 60 minute game. The teams combined for 16 power plays. Basically half of the game was one team holding the man advantage. After a pretty entertaining first period it seemed like we didn't go 30 seconds without a whistle for something.
As for how Bratt called the game from Trail's perspective, I would think the numbers speak for themselves. The Smoke Eaters had to kill off 11 power plays. Given that they average having to kill 4.6 power plays a game Trail must have been particularly nasty tonight! That's kind of funny since only Vernon and Penticton have been shorthanded less than Trail this season.
In the third period alone the Smokies were shorthanded 8 times. That's nearly twice the number of times Trail is normally on the penalty kill in a full game... all in a single period. One of those times was a full 2 minute 5 on 3 that they dramatically killed. The period also included the ejection of the usually calm and collected Trail Captain Paul Mailey during a discussion with the referee. I wonder why Mailey was upset? Possibly because what we witnessed during the third period of tonight's game was an absolute embarassment.
Don't let it seem like my outrage was reserved only for Bratt's treatment of the Smoke Eaters. It also seemed quite obvious in the game that he had some kind of issue with Mitch MacMillan. The Bulldogs sniper found himself in the box three times including an unsportsmanlike conduct minor. Bratt also ignored what I thought would be an obvious penalty against Trail (given everything else he had called in the game) when the infraction was committed against MacMillan. Someone gives him a little bit of grief and suddenly he's under the magnifying glass all game.
Hockey is an emotional game. Players and coaches get mad sometimes and give referees hell. You can kind of see why they would. Their jobs and careers depend on winning hockey games. The referees? The result means nothing to them. That's why the good ones don't get emotional. That's why the good ones don't let anything that happens in a game or anything that is said to them influence the way they call a game.
The bad ones? Check out tonight's boxscore.
We all make mistakes. I screw up all the time as I try hard to improve my craft relatively early in my career. I expect the same reality to apply to young referees in the BCHL who are early in their careers as well. However, there's a big difference between screwing up a call or two and ruining a hockey game. I've been looking forward to getting my first look at the Bulldogs this season and seeing how the Smoke Eaters would match up. As far as I'm concerned the officiating tonight ruined the game and stole that opportunity from the fans.
Referees should not be the story of the game. They should never act like they're a big part of the show. They can't get emotional. They especially shouldn't take over a game to the point that they can't seem to stay out of the way. Tonight's game was a virtual seminar on how not to call a game. I credit the Smokies tonight for not giving up in the third period. They battled in cutting the deficit to 2-1 and 4-2 at the start and finish of the period. They battled hard in killing a full 2 minute 5 on 3. They battled in keeping the Bulldogs to only 2 power play goals in those 11 opportunities. The Smoke Eaters can hold their heads up high for how they keep fighting to stay in the game no matter what was thrown in their way.
Next time fans at home get set to complain about our local refs try to remember what we saw in Port Alberni tonight. We are lucky to have the guys we have at the Cominco Arena every weekend. As far as I'm concerned they're the class of the league. I can't wait to see the Bulldogs come to Trail so we can actually see what a real game between the two teams would be like.
I'm not saying the officiating was the reason the Bulldogs won. Instead I'm saying it was the reason we didn't actually see a hockey game tonight. I'm not sure what it was... but it sure wasn't a hockey game.