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Critical coaches fined. League reaffirms faith in officials during shaky days
Jim Bray and Guy Spurrier, National Post, with files from News Services
Published: Monday, November 06, 2006

Stephen Walkom, the National Hockey League's director of officiating, claimed over the weekend that he did not want to be in the papers every day. And that he had "full faith in his officials."

But four incidents in two nights should be enough to test anyone's faith.

- A phantom hand pass that negated Edmonton's tying goal with four seconds left against Dallas on Friday night.

- A missed high-sticking call in Atlanta on Friday that led to Thrashers coach Bob Hartley receiving a gross misconduct.

- A questionable interference penalty in Ottawa -- Chris Phillips hit Rod Brind'Amour along the boards as the Hurricanes forward let a pass go by -- that led to Carolina's power-play winner on Saturday.

- And the ejection of San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo, for hitting from behind on Saturday, that could lead to the third fine in three days for an NHL coach.

Hartley and Edmonton's Craig MacTavish each were nicked US$10,000 for their outbursts on Friday, and San Jose's Ron Wilson put himself in the sights of the league office with his post-game outburst on Saturday.

"[Cheechoo] hit [Pittsburgh's Mark Eaton]," Wilson told reporters, "but that's the first hit from behind I've seen that's 20 feet from the boards. The guy was off-balance, shooting the puck. That's why he went down.

"I wish when we're making these kinds of critical decisions in this league ... why can't one referee ask the other what he saw before you're kicking a guy out or disallowing a goal?

"I've never understood that. I don't stand on the bench and always make decisions on my own. If I'm confused, I ask my assistants.

"What's so hard about that?"

A second opinion wasn't an option in Edmonton, where referee Mick McGeough's decision cost the Oilers one point in the standings, if not two. McGeough thought he saw Edmonton centre Shawn Horcoff knock the puck ahead with his hand off the faceoff, and whistled the play as Ales Hemsky scored what would have been the tying goal.

"It was a retarded call," MacTavish ranted after the game. "There is no other explanation for it. Nobody saw the hand pass on the play because quite clearly there wasn't one. It's beyond reason."

McGeough, for his part, admitted "it was a blown call on my part, poor judgment on my part."

And Walkom, in an interview with The Edmonton Journal's John MacKinnon, said McGeough would be "the first guy to tell you that he'd like to roll back the clock and have that one back. It basically was a human error."

Walkom also admitted that the expectations for officials are higher now that they have had a year to adapt to the post-lockout rule changes.

"The forgiveness for a missed call or an over-reaction is going to be less than last year,'" he said.

Human errors can be costly errors. MacTavish and Hartley are now short US$10,000, with the money going to the NHL Foundation, the league's charitable organization.

And don't tell Oilers fans that charity begins at home. Their team is missing a point.

Evgeni Malkin's goal-scoring streak ended at six straight games on Saturday, but the 3-2 loss to San Jose might have gone a long way toward cementing chemistry in the Penguins' locker room.

When Eaton slid into the boards after being hit by Cheechoo, the first man into the fray to protect the Pittsburgh defenceman was 19-year-old alternate captain Sidney Crosby.

And in the third period, with the Penguins down 3-1, Crosby was criticized by Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh play-by-play announcer Paul Steigerwald and analyst Bob Errey for not shooting on one play, when he chose to make a lower-percentage pass across to Malkin so he could try to score his record-breaking goal.

Coach Michel Therrien's biggest job with the young Penguins, who won five straight games before Saturday (and four straight on the road), might be teaching them when to be selfless and when to be selfish.

"The biggest thing about the young guys that we have is that everyone wants to improve," Crosby told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week. "They're not just satisfied with playing here. We want to make an impact, but the attitude is we want to do it together. That's the most important thing. The attitude has to be like that."

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