'Old-time' hockey concerns Knights

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

The London Knights, who often live and die with the OHL's top-ranked power play, are concerned their league's playoff games are reverting back to the hack-and-whack, clutch-and-grab rodeo that defined hockey before this season's officiating crackdown.

"We were told that we would be reffed by the NHL standard," London head coach Dale Hunter said yesterday on the heels of his team's four-game sweep of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

"But that hasn't happened. It's going back the way it used to be. (Greyhounds coach) Craig Hartsburg was complaining about the officiating after Game 3 and his team ended up with more power plays than we did.

"(In Game 4), the power plays were five to three for them and they should've been 10 to 10."

Hunter was particularly disgusted by the indifference of referees Sean McQuigge and Mike Pearce when Sault defenceman Tyler Cuthbert nailed London forward Jordan Foreman with an obvious knee-on-knee hit.

"If (Foreman) isn't a smaller guy, that's a career-ending injury . . . It was a blatant knee. It was vicious and they missed it," Hunter said.

The officials also played with fire in handing a third-period slashing penalty and 10-minute misconduct to London's Jamie VanderVeeken, then failing to ensure he entered the penalty box.

"We played 20 seconds after that with VanderVeeken sitting on the bench right beside me," Hunter said. "What would have happened if I used him on the penalty kill during that time? He was supposed to be serving 12 minutes. A ref came over and I said to him, 'You screwed up' and he said, 'Nope, I didn't.' "

Hunter is heartened that OHL referee-in-chief Ted Baker spoke out about the officiating after Monday's Owen Sound-Kitchener double overtime game, a contest that had been described by some in attendance as "a war."

"The standard that was applied during the overtime was not the expected standard and that is not something we would expect in the future," Baker told the Owen Sound Sun-Times.

"If the players are playing and committing infractions, then we've certainly communicated to all of our referees that we want a consistent application of the rules. We felt for three periods, the standards were enforced as we wished and it was not in the overtime."

Though the London-Sault Game 4 overtime went beyond 19 minutes before Knights star David Bolland scored, there were no penalties called despite several questionable hits and plenty of stickwork.

One call the OHL did get right was handing London forward Kris Belan a gross misconduct and a five-game suspension for uttering a slur to referee Darcy Burchell after a Game 3 elbowing penalty. Things are always said in the heat of competition, but it never bodes well to get personal.

"It's not right (to say what he said) but I thought it might be less . . . because five games in the regular season isn't the same as five in the playoffs," London GM Mark Hunter said. "But I talked to Ted (Baker) and he said there's a precedent and a standard and it's going to be five games. I'm happy with that as long as it's consistent -- just like I'm happy as long as the penalty calls are consistent."

Dale Hunter is hopeful the NHL standard will be revisited -- but if things don't get called, he feels his only defence will be to fight back.

"We have some guys who are pretty beat up," Hunter said. "If there's going to be clutching and grabbing like that, then I'll have to send out my guys to clutch and grab, too."

London, which will face the lowest surviving seed among Owen Sound, Windsor, Guelph and Saginaw in the second round, plans to have coaches or staff at each of the three remaining Western Conference series.


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