Sometimes you need a sense of humor to get through a hockey game according to one-time NHL referee Denis Morel. A simple one-liner will do, and it can quickly lighten the moment in an intense situation between a player who is upset at a call.
"Bryan Murray always liked to talk to us, yell at us and tell us what to do," Morel said of his exchanges with the coach. "And I said maybe Bryan one night we should change jobs, you should be the ref and I should be the coach and we will see what would be the difference. Overall, a guy like Al Arbour
, he would just look at you and you knew you had made a mistake, that's it. He never said much, he was a very respectful man.
"Coaches like (Scotty) Bowman, Scotty always talked underground like when you were in front of the dressing room. (He) gives his message."
Referees get abuse from fans, but Morel said he and his fellow officials would not let it get to them. If you answer back, you are asking for trouble, except if you deliver a funny line.
"My answers to those fans who yelled, 'Morel you stink,' 'Morel you are missing a good game,' I said that means it is a good game because I am missing," said Morel. "That was my answer towards them. Or if you get rid of your frustration, maybe you save a few heart attacks that night."
One of Morel's favorite stories involved Montreal defenseman Pierre Bouchard
, who was with the Canadiens in the 1970s. Bouchard also happened to own a Montreal eatery. Bouchard was quite angry with Morel one night and let him know that he wasn't in agreement with any of Morel's decisions.
"Pierre was a calm guy, but that night he was a little bit mad at me and came right at me and started yelling a little bit," said Morel. "I said, 'Pierre, Pierre, Pierre, hold your breath' and Pierre owned a restaurant with his father (Hall of Fame defenseman Butch Bouchard
), I said, 'Pierre, can you make me a reservation for eight people please?' He turned around and looked and went to the bench and he said 'That Morel is crazy. He just asked me for a reservation for eight people.' All of a sudden just make a reservation at his place. Why not?
"I went after the game too. We had a great meal too, we paid. It was great food. Maybe he charged some extra money, he was so mad at me. He took care of me.
"After the game is over, it is over. That is one thing about the pros. I don't know anybody who has a grudge after the game."
Even the most serious of players, someone like Ken Dryden, was the target of one of Morel's one-liners.
"Ken Dryden always stood up tall, you know," Morel said of the Montreal Hall of Fame goaltender of the 1970s. "One time he calls me with his deep voice and he says, 'Denis, we got a hole here,' I said, 'Ken you did that on purpose, I don't fix that hole, no way I will fix it. We just play like that.' He said, 'That would be dangerous for the players.' 'Well, you will be responsible for that, we can sue you.' "
That ended that conversation with a laugh.
Linesmen used to like working with Morel when the Quebec Nordiques played home games. Nordiques fans felt that Morel, who is French-Canadian, would give the home team a boost. But they found out quickly that Morel treated a Quebec home game like a game in New Jersey and he called them like he saw them. And when Nordiques supporters disagreed with Morel, coins came flying down on the ice.
"When I was in Quebec, all the linesmen love to work with me in Quebec," said Morel. "They were making a lot of money. (Nordiques fans) threw some loonies on the ice. When I was on the ice, they were making more money. Maybe they thought I would give (the Nordiques) a break. I don't know why, I got a job to do.
"Montreal was different, they never threw so much stuff on ice."
But the Montreal Canadiens
crowd was famous for throwing toe-rubbers (boots) on the ice when a call went against the home team. In Morel's very early days as an NHL official in the mid-1970s, some boots still came flying out of the stands.
"Sometimes you grab a good size and you put it in the penalty box. It was a nice pair, sometimes nearly brand new. A size 8½, bring that to the dressing room please, that way I saved a couple of dollars," he said with a laugh. "I hope the other linesmen got some too."
There was one item thrown on ice that Morel kind of wondered about after the home crowd disagreed with one of his calls.
"One time I was working in Junior A back home and there was a pig head," he said. "It was the first time I saw that and it was heavy. I picked it up and that is too heavy and I called the guys over and said this is your job big guy. We don't see that too often. Maybe the officials are better."