PHILADELPHIA -- If you look back at photographs of some of the most important moments in NHL history over the past 30 years, you'll often find referee Kerry Fraser in the picture.
Fraser officiated some of the biggest games, Stanley Cup Finals, Olympics, World Cups, and All-Star Games. On Sunday, he added another chapter, refereeing the first NHL game that ended in a shootout between two teams vying for the final Stanley Cup Playoff berth when the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New York Rangers, 2-1.
Before the season started, Fraser was given his choice of two games and he selected the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic game on New Year's Day in Boston between the Bruins and Flyers. His next choice was the season-ender in Philadelphia. Fraser, who grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, is a Philadelphia-area resident.
He also had his choice of officiating partners and selected referee Kelly Sutherland and linesmen Don Henderson and Darren Gibbs. All four wore Fraser's No. 2 in tribute to the NHL's senior referee.
NHL referee Kerry Fraser (Getty Images)
"Who woulda thunk it," Fraser said after the game at a party held in his honor in the Wachovia Center. "It's 20 minutes from my house and we could assemble everybody and party and be close to home and close to family. Never did I think for a second it would be for the final playoff spot between the two teams. To have it decided by a shootout, you can't script that in Hollywood."
Fraser's officiating partners were thrilled. They've learned from him as have a couple of generations of amateur referees, who closely watch NHL games and referees to see how it's done the right way.
"It was a great experience and it was an honor when Kerry invited us to do his final game," Gibbs said. "The way it worked out, that's a Hollywood script. It was fitting for Kerry who has done so many big games for his final one to be as good and as big as it was."
"I met him at the 1986 Stanley Cup, his first," Henderson said. "He was a mentor and a good friend, someone who took care of me. I met him at a game I went to with my brother and he was refereeing with John McCauley. A fan was going to slap McCauley and my brother sat him down in a hurry and Kerry remembered that. That's where I met him and he was there on Day One when I first put on my NHL referee jersey."
Sutherland's relationship goes back a long way and it's one Fraser treasures.
"When I was 14-15 and just starting officiating, he was the one guy I'd turn on the TV and try to learn from him," Sutherland said. "He was a great referee to watch and learn from. I met him when I was 18 at referee school, where he was an instructor. From then on, he was very instrumental in my career. For the past two decades I've learned from this guy and it was a great honor to work his last game."
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"Kelly looks so much like me and he has emulated some of my mannerisms, but he is his own man," Fraser said. "He's an outstanding referee. But at that school, he was following me around like a puppy dog and I found out he had my hockey card in his wallet. His hairstyle is like mine and we're the same size and stature. His skating style is similar.
"It was really an honor to have each guy that I selected to be part of this final regular-season game."
Fraser was asked if he ever thought, back when he was a kid getting paid peanuts to referee beer leagues and kid's games that he'd become one of the game's greatest officials.
"I never had an aspirations of being an official. I wanted to play," said Fraser, who got his first taste of Philadelphia when he left Sarnia to play junior hockey in Collingswood, N.J. "The only reason I did all those industrial-league games at 15 was to get extra skating time so I could improve. My dad was refereeing and had played pro and coached me in AAA Midgets for two years. We had seven guys on that team that played in the NHL.
"It was high-quality amateur hockey, but I got extra skating and a little extra money but never did I think I would become a referee. When the door closed for me on my Junior A career, I decided I wanted to stay in the game so I went to a referee school on the recommendation of a family friend, Ted Garvin, who went on to coach the Red Wings.
"I was in the right place at the right time. It was 1972 and the NHL was looking to replace officials who had jumped ship and gone to the World Hockey Association. They got serious about recruiting and Frank Udvari saw something in me, I don't know what it was but they thought they could teach me and thank God they did."
The Flyers held a nice ceremony before the game to honor Fraser, who was joined for the ceremonial puck drop by his grandkids, Harrison, 8, and Brady, 6.
"I said to both centers, gentlemen, this game is about you. This is your time. It's not about me. I want you to play hard. I want you to be safe. And, don't worry about us."
"I was in the right place at the right time. It was 1972 and the NHL was looking to replace officials who had jumped ship and gone to the World Hockey Association. They got serious about recruiting and Frank Udvari saw something in me, I don't know what it was but they thought they could teach me and thank God they did." -- Kerry Fraser
Typical Fraser who said he was always aware that all across North America amateur referees tune in to watch the good ones.
"We have a responsibility and the game has always been first for me," Fraser said. "I woke up this morning and I had all these thoughts that I had to push away because I needed to focus on the game. That's the professionalism that we need to be cognizant of when we step on the ice. There are a lot of officials watching.
"If we do something inappropriate, show anger, get in disputes with players and not handle things appropriately, we're sending the wrong signal. That's a huge responsibility that each of us has as a high-profile NHL official."
Fraser and his wife, Kathy, raised seven children, Marcie, Ryan, Jessica, Matthew, Ian, Jaime, and Kara. He said it was a thrill to have Harrison and Brady on the ice with him for the tribute.
"They're two of the three children of our oldest, Marcie, and they live two doors down the street from us," Fraser said.
Perfect. With three kids, there will always be plenty of disputes to decide and calls to make.