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Anthems, Officials, and A Surprise

05/22/10
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This one is gonna be a long one. Grab a mucho cocomoco and a raspberry twist from Spot Coffee, and then settle in.

OK, back? I’ll bet that cocomoco is delish. Here we go…

It’s something I’ve addressed on Twitter, and in the comments of both the Ask Adam feature and Edward Fraser’s playoff blog, and it’s something I’m going to address here, too – it might be a small thing to get so worked up about, but this anthem thing is really rubbing me the wrong way. At the heart of the issue is that most – most – American arenas in the NHL will only perform O Canada if the opponent du jour is from north of the 49th parallel. My issue is that, contrary to the generalization, not all do, and the staff of the most respected hockey publication in the world should know this. You’d think Ryan Kennedy, a staff writer at THN and someone who frequents many Buffalo Sabres games, would enlighten his colleagues to what goes on in HSBC Arena before every single game regardless of the opposition.

You see, before the puck drop of the very first game played by the Buffalo Sabres in the Memorial Auditorium, Seymour and Norty Knox mandated that both anthems were to be performed before every game as a sign of respect and appreciation to the country that gave us this game and the fans who crossed the border into the USA to watch this team play. And it has remained this way since 1970.

Now, I understand in less hockey-relevant locations like the teams that were borne of Bettman’s southern hockey expansion that they maybe only perform the Star-Spangled Banner before every game and save O Canada for their Canadian opponents, but among the established northern markets, I just can’t believe that the Sabres are the only American team to sing both songs every night. I’d strongly assume that in the Xcel Center and Joe Louis Arena it’s the same, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that in New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, and on Long Island they do the same, but it would downright shock me to hear that they don’t.

[[EDIT: Since commenting, Adam Proteau has edited his response to include the words "(the exception begin Buffalo, which plays both every game)". I'll let the typo slide, Adam, since you've done me a solid ;-)]]

On Thursday, the NHL announced that they would be adding Marcus Vinnerborg to their officiating staff for the 2010/2011 season. What’s special about this is that Vinnerborg is set to become the first-ever European-trained official to work in the NHL. Vinnerborg, a Swede, had drawn high praise from Terry Gregson (NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Officials) as he watched the official from afar. “I first saw Marcus officiate a game in 2005 and have been watching him ever since, including in Vancouver,” he said during a conference call that included Vinnerborg and stretched across continents “He meshes extremely well [with NHL on-ice officials] on blended crews for World Championships and Olympics. Plus, he is a quality person. His knowledge of the North American game and his work ethic and professionalism will make him a positive addition to the NHL staff.”

To me, this could be a turning point in NHL officiating. Since the deterioration of the so-called “New NHL” following two glorious post-lockout seasons, the on-ice officials have let the teams get away with clutching, grabbing, and interfering at an absurd frequency. This has caused the league to revert back to a style that rewards big, goony players and slowdown methods. At the heart of this problem is the NHL’s la cosa nostra, the referees and linesmen.

Many of these men called the game before the lockout, and still call the game as if the lockout never happened. They still choose to interpret the rules and call them to their liking, instead of calling the game to the letter of the law. But with the influx of Vinnerborg, this could change. Regardless of his prior knowledge to the game, Vinnerborg comes from a hockey culture that supports wide open play. I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet referees in Europe are less apt to call rules how they see fit. If this is true, Vinnerborg’s obeying the rules of the game and wanting to make a good impression in his first season as a referee in the NHL (and, for a short time beforehand, the AHL), he’ll most likely call games very tight. This may irk his new old-timey co-workers, but tough sh*t – they need to get with the program and stop playing fast and loose with the rules.

I’ve been saving up this surprise for a few days, but with it being a week away, I’m happy to announce that I’ll be conducting my first interview for Black and Blue and Gold. It will be with Nick Mendola, sports radio personality for WECK 1230 and co-owner of the FC Buffalo “Blitzers”, about the Blitzers’ inaugural season and the events that were leading up to it. It’s a new step for me as a blogger, and one I’m proud to take.

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