Thursday, April 07, 2016
Game Promotions Gone Bad
Kerry Fraser put quite a few miles on his blades on National Hockey League rinks. He began his career as a referee in 1973, and broke into the NHL in 1980. He blew the whistle until 2010. At that time, he had adjudicated more regular season games, and more playoff games than any other official in the game, at the NHL level.
He does admit that he was not the most popular official in history, and he did take a lot of abuse for his impeccable hair. No matter. He also worked several international games, including the Olympics.
When I spotted him hovering above the ice at the BT&T Centre in Sunrise, Florida, I knew I was in luck.
The Panthers had recently suffered nearly disastrous results from a promotion at their games. The first 10 000 fans entering the arena were given a rubber rat. Not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill rats. Special rats. The words, “Year of the Rat” were written on the rat's side, as was the date: 1995-96. For twenty years, the team has capitalized on the poor rodent.
Back in their old barn in Miami, Scott Mellanby had fired a dazed rat against the wall with a decent slapshot before a game. He also potted two goals that evening. As a consequence, Panthers' goalie John Vanbiesbrouck stated the Mellanby had scored a “rat trick”. That was the only year that the Cats played in a Stanley Cup final.
Since that time, fans have showered the ice surface with rats after victories. Recent events regarding the long-tailed creature have not gone so well for the Panthers.
On the rat promotion night, fans tossed their rodents onto the ice after their first goal. They were warned over the public address system not to throw things on the ice. More rats, naturally. Then they were assessed a two minute delay of game penalty.
Then another goal, and more rats! And another two minute penalty. The veins were quite prevalent on Coach Gerard Gallant's neck. He was more unhappy with the fans, than with the call: “We've got to be smarter than that,” he told the press after the game.
Fraser recalled a similar occurrence one night in St. Louis. Fans were given “coozies”, those silly rubber things you place over cans to keep them cool. When the fans objected to some of Fraser's calls, they showered the ice. “They filled a dozen wheelbarrows! They used them again at another promotional night.” Look for Fraser on his popular TSN show, “C'mon, Ref!”
I chatted with other hockey guys about stuff being tossed on the ice. Naturally, the octopus in Detroit comes to mind. For those of us with slightly receding hairlines, we remember programs covering ice surfaces. Eddie Johnson, the veteran NHL netminder laughed when I told him I remembered toe rubbers littering the ice at the old Memorial in Belleville.
Toe rubbers, you ask? Check with your grandfather.
The Ontario Hockey League has instituted a wonderful program to benefit kids. It is dubbed a “Teddy Bear Toss”, and takes place in many arenas. Fans come to the game with stuffed animals, in a plastic bag. When the home team scores a goal, they shower the ice with the bears. The rink rats pick then up and donate them to a cause.
That is, of course, unless the home team does not score. Robert Gherson, the affable netminder who was placed in our billet home as a kid, shut out a team on “Teddy Bear Toss Night”. “They pelted me with those bears after the game. They were not happy!”
Another stuff-on-the-ice event that Gherson remembered took place in Erie, the Pennsylvania home of the OHL Otters. They had a chap named Corey Pecker in their lineup. And yes, as I am sure you have surmised, when Corey scored, fans would throw stuff on the ice. And yes, they looked like...And yes, they were dildos!
Gherson also played with another player who happened to be playing in Sweden when another rink was covered. Have a look.
On occasion, public relations folk don't think these things through as carefully as they should. My pal Rick Meagher played several years in the NHL. On one occasion in St. Louis, fans were given beautiful ceramic mugs entering the arena. When the officiating took a turn for the worse, in their opinion, they showered the ice with the mugs.
Toronto Blue Jays players are positioned far enough away from the fans that they are rarely affected by items thrown on the field. I was at a game when magnetic fridge schedules were handed out to fans entering the park. One fan sandwiched several magnets together, and was able to fling it near second base. That would leave a nasty mark.
After the fans spent a Sunday pelting players with beer bottles at a Browns' game in Cleveland, authorities decided to sell beer in plastic bottles. Good thinking. Come to think of it, alcohol likely has something to do with all this stuff and nonsense.
And then there was the loonie a certain individual placed at centre ice during the Olympics. But that's another story.
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April 5, 2016