What are your memories of being an official in the international hockey league and specifically being a referee in Dayton, Ohio?
Ask The Ref?
As Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon and Pat Quinn were being enshrined as the newest Hockey Hall of Fame Legends in a Nationally televised ceremony from the upper Promenade, my wife Kathy and I were schmoozing with the 'who's-who' of hockey in the lower Hall underneath the historic Bank of Montreal building that houses the Legends of the Game.
It was great to rekindle longtime relationships with hockey personalities such as Cliff Fletcher, John Davidson, Jim Rutherford, Adam Graves, the Nashville broadcast duo of Brent Peterson and play-by-play partner Pete Weber along with John Shannon of Sportsnet and my former colleague at TSN, 'rockstar'James Duthie . I had a wonderful visit with two other gentlemen that get my vote for the NHL All-Time Great Guy Award; that being Gerry Helper, Senior Vice President of the Nashville Predators and Pat Peake - former longtime Dir. of Public Relations for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Each time that I saw a different face in the crowd a memory immediately flooded into my head.
As Kathy and I were enjoying some hors d'oeuvres and drink at a standup table I received a tug on my sleeve and a guy asked me if I was Kerry Fraser? He then introduced himself as Jim Pettie. That was all the man was able to get out of his mouth as my steel trap memory kicked in.
I said, "The same Jim Pettie, goalie for the 1973-74 Dayton Gems who started a bench clearing brawl in my very first game as a referee in the International Hockey League?" Pettie nodded in amazement, as did my wife, that I would recall an incident so vividly from 43 years ago at the very mention of the former goalie's name.
After all, how many players had I seen during an officiating career that spanned 35 seasons between time spent in the minor leagues and NHL? It wasn't like Jim "Seaweed" Pettie was a household name by any stretch of the imagination, having played a total of 21 NHL games for the Boston Bruins and spent the balance of his 8 year career in the minor professional leagues. That aside, how could I ever forget the experience that I gained in my very first game in minor professional hockey. It left a lasting impression on me throughout my entire career, and while I didn't think so at the time, I have "Seaweed" to thank for it.
Pettie was taken in the 9'th round (149) by the Boston Bruins in the 1973 entry draft. Jim's aggressive style of goaltending took the meaning of "challenging the shooter" to a whole different level - as attested by his 487 career penalty minutes in 283 regular season professional games--a record I doubt that will every be beaten!
In "Seaweed's" 1973-74 rookie professional season with the Gems, the goalie recorded a very respectable 2.75 GAA in 40 games but was also assessed 73 penalty minutes. In just 4 playoff games that same season Jim earned 29 minutes in penalties. Pettie recorded his highest regular season penalty total in the '75-76 season when, in 51 games, the goaltender was flagged for 145 minutes in penalties in addition to backstopping the Gems to a Turner Cup Championship under coach Tom McVie.
On the final day of the '73 training camp for officials, NHL Referee-in-Chief Scotty Morrison signed me to my first NHL contract and dispensed me to the minor professional leagues to earn my stripes. I had spent the previous season in the AHL as a part-time linesman and had virtually no experience as a referee. My torrid rate of advancement - from attending a referee school following my final year as a Jr. A player, to an invitation to the NHL training camp for officials two days after the ref's school, to working 50 games as a linesman in the AHL, to signing an NHL contract - was virtually unheard of. I was flying high!
It only took half a period in that first IHL game in Dayton, between the Gems and the Columbus Owls, for me to crash and burn and for everyone to see, especially myself, just how inexperienced this 21 year old baby-faced referee really was.
The Gems roster had some future notable names in the lineup. Tommy McVie was the playing coach, who after 10 games wisely decided that his path to the NHL was as a fulltime coach versus a part-time player in the wild and crazy IHL. Gord Lane who recorded 214 penalty minutes that season for the Gems went on to play for the Washington Capitals and won 4 Stanley Cups with the NY Islanders . Les Jackson became a coach in the NHL. The penalty leader on the team was a very tough defenceman named Dave Simpson who led the team in penalty minutes with 274; down from his previous high of 332. Even their 3rd string goalie/trainer, Danny "Red" Sullivan appeared in 7 games and picked up 56 minutes in penalties. This league was not for the faint of heart.
While the IHL was a great league for any referee to cut his teeth in (or lose them), I was like a deer in the headlights once Gems goalie Jim Pettie whacked an opposing player inside his crease with his stick, threw off his goalie gloves and started pounding away. The Columbus goalie left his crease and charged up ice to jump into the pile as players paired off and duked it out and all hell broke loose.
I felt what little air was left in my lungs escape when both benches emptied and joined the melee. Danny Sullivan, in his white trainers pants and running shoes jumped over the boards and joined the fight on the ice. Guys were trading partners and some players fought two or three different times after pausing for a brief rest between rounds. The fighting only stopped once everyone was finally tired out. The ice looked like a yard sale and all players were stripped down to their underwear. "Seaweeds" scraggly hair was befitting his nickname but was still looking for someone else to fight with until McVie and slick defenceman Jimmy Bannatyne restrained and calmed their goalie.
I had been involved in bench clearings and line brawls as a player, including one in Guelph that lasted for 25 minutes until the police were called in to break it up. Never before had I been the referee in charge of doling out the penalties in this type of situation. The hundreds of times that I had read the rule book or sat in classroom sessions had not prepare me in any way for this. I simply froze!
When it was time to dole out penalties I kept it really simple...two players from each team received 5 minutes for fighting and I gave another pair 2 minutes for roughing. That was the end product of a 25 minute brawl!
The following day I got a call from IHL Commissioner Bill Beagan who was as kind as a father-figure and mentor could be. Bill walked me through the situation and explained there were automatic penalties that had to be impose when the situation took place again. He said it was important to identify the initial infraction that lead up to the fight wherever possible; to impose minor penalties to the goalkeepers for leaving the crease during the altercation; 3rd man in (we had a bunch of those!); first off the players bench; and grab 3 or 4 of the major combatants from each team and assess major penalties for fighting. The player that started it all, goalie Jim Pettie, should have been ejected from the game for not only starting the donnybrook but his multiple efforts to continue fighting with any opponent within range.
It was a terrific phone call from Mr. Beagan and helped prepare me for the next bench clearing brawl that I had to deal with in the IHL. I didn't have to wait very long to utilize my new found knowledge and practical experience. The benches cleared in a game in Saginaw and Gears coach Don Perry, prior to joining the LA Kings as their coach, came onto the ice in his suit and dress shoes to join in the brawl.
There was no deer in the headlights this time around as I took charge and imposed the proper penalties. I have Jim "Seaweed" Pettie of the Dayton Gems and the sound advice received from Commissioner Bill Beagan to thank for preparing me in how to handle all future bench clearing brawls. I got all the automatic penalties while still trying to keep it as simple as possible.
Those were the days that my friend Jim Pettie and I could reminisce and laugh about as we look at them in the rearview mirror. It was great seeing you once again "Seaweed"...