THUNDER BAY -- Kerry Fraser had a front-row view for some of the greatest moments in hockey history.
An NHL official for 37 years, he skated alongside the likes of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and even Sidney Crosby, keeping the peace as one of the most respected referees in the sport.
It’s that respect that landed him his post-retirement gig, an analyst role with TSN where he explains controversial calls to NHL fans both on camera and in his popular C’Mon Ref column on the sports giant’s website.
Fraser, who wrote the best-selling book The Final Call after stepping away from the game, said like most people, he simply wasn’t ready for retirement and when TSN came calling, he jumped at the opportunity.
At first he was doing occasional hits for the networks, but when the playoffs arrived, he was brought in to give his take on decisions made by officials, which ultimately led to the five-day-a-week column during the hockey season.
Given the passion of Canadian hockey fans, it’s a teaching tool and it appears to be working, he said.
“In the blog I see from fans an education process is taking place. They become more understanding about what officials do and what they see from their perspective. It gives (fans) a whole different look,” said Fraser on Thursday, in Thunder Bay to help Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp promote his annual golf tournament in support of the George Jeffrey Children’s Centre.
“When they yell and scream at officials for blowing a call, now they have a little more understanding and why.”
Fraser, a longtime member of the officiating brotherhood who was part of 13 Stanley Cup finals, two Olympics and three all-star games, isn’t afraid to loudly point out when he thinks a referee or linesman has blown a call.
Take Thunder Bay’s Marc Staal, who leveled a cross-check at the head of the notoriously concussion-laden Crosby in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference second-round series.
Fraser told a reader, who asked about the play, the no-call was worthy of at least a five-minute major and a game misconduct, if not a suspension.
He then called out the on-ice officials for their lack of awareness of what was going on around them.
The Sarnia, Ont. native, who now calls Philadelphia home, knows he probably won’t be the guest of honour at any upcoming NHL referee retreats.
“There are officials in the National Hockey League that aren’t really happy with Kerry Fraser for his C’Mon Ref column. I operate on the basis that I have to be totally honest. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong,” he said.
“On the ice, if I made a mistake, I admitted it. And I think that we have to find a better way. I’m really concerned with some of the high hits, the dangerous plays. As the NHL is trying to sort through it and come up with a solution, I think they could be a little more diligent. And I think from an officiating perspective, they can get better as well.”
Goaltender interference is another infraction that irks him, a call he says was inconsistent in its application, glaringly obvious these past playoffs.
He won’t lay the entire blame on the referees and linesmen.
“With some better coaching and some better accountability from upper management, I think the officials can be better.”
Fraser, who worked a record 1,904 regular season games and 261 in the postseason, can be seen regularly on TSN2’s That’s Hockey 2Nite.