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One Minute Remaining: Refs easy to criticize in the playoffs

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks

There are 26 NHL teams that would rather be using hockey sticks instead of golf clubs while the Blackhawks and their three counterparts continue the battle for the Stanley Cup. Chicago became just the 21st team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to move on. Of course, the triumph came with some controversy, when Niklas Hjalmarsson's goal with 1:47 remaining in regulation was negated by a referee's whistle while two players were fighting near the Detroit bench. Fortunately, Brent Seabrook's goal at 3:35 of overtime has helped ease that angst as the Hawks have moved to the conference finals.

I don't want to mislead you, because besides the work I do for the team, I am a Blackhawks fan! It is easy to criticize a referee's call. All you have to remember is Game 6 at Detroit, when I'm sure most of the Red Wings faithful questioned the penalty shot call that resulted in Michael Frolik's game-winning goal to tie the series.

I was fortunate to be sitting in the first balcony at the Stadium on April 4, 1959, for Game 6 of the playoff semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal was up 3-2 in the series against Chicago, which was making its first playoff appearance in six years and facing the defending champs. Red Storey was considered the best referee in the league; it wound up being his last NHL game.

The Hawks kept taking the lead, but the Canadiens tripped Ed Litzenberger once, then scored to tie the game.Then two more times, Bobby Hull was tripped in the third period, and both times the visitors took the puck up ice to score and win the game 5-4 in the final 90 seconds, and ultimately the series.

All three times, Storey failed to call a penalty against the Canadiens, and fans showered the ice for more than 30 minutes. When the game ended, two fans ran onto the ice trying to get at him, but were halted, one by the stick of Montreal's Doug Harvey. NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell was at the game and was asked about Storey's officiating. He told the press that "Storey choked!"

So while the whistle prevented Hjalmarsson's goal last Wednesday, Seabrook eventually came through. Remember, the referees try to call them as they see them, and hopefully their decisions don't affect the final score. Go Hawks!

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