Skip to main content Playoff Blog: Nothing to be gained by whining about refs

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Mike Babcock had every right to be disappointed, angry, upset, frustrated and befuddled by the erroneous no-goal call in Game 4 of the Western Conference final.

But being the smart coach and strong leader he is, the Wings bench boss didn’t beat the point to death. Credit Babcock for his reasonably controlled reaction at the post-game press conference when discussing referee Kelly Sutherland’s judgment that Tomas Holmstrom was in the crease on an apparent Pavel Datsyuk goal.

“What do you want me to say?" Babcock told reporters. "The guy's not in the paint? The guy's out of the paint. That was a reputation call totally. It's disappointing.

"The way I look at it is this: In the league, there's lots that goes on, on the ice. Sometimes a guy gets tripped and you miss it. Sometimes, things go wrong and you miss it. Just don't make stuff up, that's all. Kelly Sutherland's a good referee. He just blew the call. That's life."

The Western hemisphere – and chunks of the East – was nearly instantly aware Sutherland goofed on a play that would have seen Detroit take a 1-0 lead. On that score, there’s no dispute, nothing to clarify, nothing to gain.

But there was something to lose by excessive complaining: focus. Good on Babcock for not falling into that trap.

An NHL coach’s job goes beyond devising strategy, changing lines and imparting motivation. It’s his task, with his words and deeds, to set a tone, to get buy-in, to lead.

Had Babcock bemoaned at length about something neither he nor his players had control over, he would have been giving his troops an out for losing: the refs. It tells them it’s OK to have a victim’s mentality. It can be poison for morale.

As tough as it may have been to tone down his outrage at the news conference, Babcock chose a prudent course of action.

Chances are, the Wings will rebound in Game 5 and wrap up the series at home. They’ll have a better chance of doing that if in their minds they believe they’re only taking on Dallas, not the referees, too.


I like Glenn Healy’s work on TSN, but a line he uttered, at least twice, in Game 3 of the Wings-Stars series is a telling commentary on how hockey insiders think.

During a sequence of a few minutes in which play was flowing freely up and down the ice, Healy suggested the game was too wide open.

Specifically, he meant Dallas needed to slow the pace and not trade chances with Detroit.

Point taken. That was probably the Stars’ best opportunity for success.

But it’s not something that I, as a fan of the game, want to hear. Hockey was derailed from being all it can be by a defense-first philosophy that grew to pervasive. I can’t imagine anyone wants to go back down that track.'s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog appears every weekend.

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