It was early 1990-something, on an eerie night before Halloween - more commonly known as mischief or devil's night. I was assigned to referee a cross-town rivalry game between the visiting NY Islanders and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. I found Rangers fans never to be overly hospitable regardless of the the visiting team or the officiating crew. The Islanders, however, always brought out the most vitriol from the Blue Shirts faithful. In earlier days (until the end of the 1988 season) I could always count on less personal abuse heaped my way when a famous chant often reserved for referees was instead delivered repeatedly toward Islanders star defenceman, and future Hockey Hall of Fame member, Denis Potvin.
Even after Potvin, Billy Smith, and company retired, the rivalry continued and the energy in the building often brought out the best, and sometimes the worst, in the game participants. This was an era of the game when trash talking and personal insults, although no less inappropriate, were often tolerated and not caught on the excessive number of microphones and cameras as they are today.
Some jibes were rather creative and could be viewed as humorous - unless of course you were the victim of the insult or slur and took it personally. There were many occasions when I became the self-appointed morality police on the ice long before political correctness prevailed. This particular mischief night at Madison Square Garden, however, the only response from me and the linesman was from keeping tough guy Tie Domi from doing excessive bodily harm to his antagonist, Raymond Ferraro.
The same Ray Ferraro that you now see as an outstanding hockey analyst and broadcaster was a master of wit and sarcasm as a player, which he most often directed toward his intended target from a safe position behind the linesmen in an effort to draw a penalty. The night before Halloween at MSG was no exception when a scrum ensued and Ferraro of the Islanders was taunting an agitated Tie Domi. With the fuse already lit, Ferraro peaked around the linesman and shouted, "Hey Domi, with a head like that you should be sitting on someone's porch tonight!"
Domi didn't find the insult one bit humorous and had to be physically restrained by both linesmen. As much as I couldn't really couldn't blame Tie for losing it, he left me no other recourse but to assess him a minor penalty. The Islanders went on the power play which was all part of Ray Ferraro's game plan.
In today's game there is still the odd piece of "trash" that is circulated in the heat of the battle between players. Fortunately, political correctness and diversity training is monitored and enforced by the League. Very little escapes the microphones and the cameras. It's a different era and a new generation...although maybe not that different. Tie's son Max and Ferraro's son Landon are both lighting up the NHL and AHL respectively in the present day, carrying on their fathers' legacies - but hopefully not their insults. Happy Halloween everybody! Be good!