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The recent scandal surrounding NBA ref Tim Donaghy allegedly betting on games he was officiating and potentially helping alter the outcomes had me thinking about hockey's officials.

And you know what? It really didn't worry me that much.

While it is conceivable a referee could sway a game's outcome by granting a 5-on-3 power play, there's no guarantee the team will score. And I suppose a linesman could purposely “miss” an offside, thus leading to a 2-on-1, or, on the flip side, call an offside, thus negating the rush.

Even if an official was favoring a team, scoring in hockey is much more of an event than in basketball (six goals a game versus 70 buckets in basketball) and much more likely to draw attention.

In fact, we know specifically the NHL war room reviewed every single goal scored in the playoffs this past spring. If something was amiss, they'd see it fast.

When the NBA ref-gambling story first surfaced, the gut reaction in many basketball circles was, “which one was it?” As in, “yeah, we know the game is crooked, who was dumb enough to get caught?”

While hockey takes a lot of knocks in the media, I think it's fair to say the honor of the officials is held high.

I get a lot of letters from fans about the game in general and how their team is doing. The “everyone is against us” attitude is in all of us, and after an especially heated game that doesn't go their way, I don't blame fans for venting about game-changing penalty calls or non-calls and which refs they believe hate their team (based on the letters I get, refs hate Montreal and Columbus).

But once the venom has receded and the chicken wings absorb the Coors Light, most fans accept the NHL official has a tough job and gives everyone a fair shake.

As much as we want to think referees and linesmen are the crusty deans in a Rodney Dangerfield movie, they're very similar to the athletes who play the sport. Talk to one and you'll find they've been following the game since they were kids, a lot of them love watching a good scrap and they play hilarious, juvenile pranks on each other on the road.

The NBA got shaken to its core this week and the legitimacy of actual championships has been questioned, but, with apologies to Buffalo in 1999, the NHL never has to worry about the legitimacy of the Stanley Cup winner.

And we have the officials to thank for that.



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