Kerry on, Fraser

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:49 AM ET

After May 27, 1993, Kerry Fraser must have realized that any game he refereed involving the Maple Leafs was going to be judged differently.

As hard as on-ice officials try not to be a story, Fraser was the perceived antagonist in the Leafs’ closest recent brush with the Stanley Cup. The infamy came from a call Fraser didn’t make — Wayne Gretzky’s high stick on Doug Gilmour in Game 7 of the conference final against the Los Angeles Kings — that fair or not, hounds him to this day.

But when working his final game in Toronto on Saturday, the 57-year-old didn’t slink in just before the faceoff or run for the exit afterwards. He moved on long ago from that steamy night in the Forum, refusing to let it overshadow a 20-year career.

He savoured Saturday, seeking out old friends on the Leafs and Rangers before his 1,829th regular season game, as he has in most stops on his final stretch. Some, such as Jim Gregory and the visiting Borje Salming, were there when the Sarnia native began in the NHL with an exhibition game at the Gardens, the Leafs against the Habs in the 1970s.

“I had walked from the parking lot on Jarvis St. to the Gardens and felt the excitement of the city, the streetcars going past and the energy,” Fraser said. “In Colorado, the night Ray Bourque won the Cup, you could feel that same energy, but that was a Game 7 and this was every Saturday night.”

Fraser has urged everyone still in their faded No. 93 sweaters and harbouring bitterness towards him to let it go and get on with life as he looks to new horizons after his last game, April 11 in his adopted home of Philadelphia.

Reminded again that a generation of Leafs fans believe, true or not, that he cost them a Cup and would never forgive him, Fraser quipped: “I have a hard time forgiving myself when I look at the replay that is constantly being shown by you guys. Nonetheless, we are human, that was human error and one that unfortunately had some consequences.”

Fraser had young fellow ref Wes McCauley in tow on Saturday. Wes is the son of Fraser’s late boss, John McCauley, and Fraser used to babysit Wes. Fraser exchanged greetings with players and Toronto coach Ron Wilson.

“I don’t remember having a beef with him,” Wilson said. “We’ve been in a number of NHL games and World Cups. He’s had a great career.”

Fraser said one of the keys to keeping control of a game was initiating a good rapport with team enforcers, such as Tiger Williams and Tie Domi.

“Those players were most often the most respected on their team,” Fraser said. “(In wild games) I’d go to Tiger and say: ‘Enough’s enough, I mean what I say’, and through that relationship, he would convey that message to his team.”

Fraser even made peace with Pat Quinn, the former Leafs coach and a notorious ref-baiter in his prime. Fraser laughed when recounting the night the Rangers honoured his 1,500th game in 2003 against the Leafs, and Quinn was spotted giving half-hearted applause on the bench. When scolded for not recognizing the milestone moment, Quinn is said to have grumbled “one good game and 1,499 lousy ones”, but the two had a nice post-game chat recently after Fraser called his last Oilers game.

Fraser also worked 261 playoff games. He has two books in the works — an autobiography and one on his 2009-10 season as he passes through every rink a last time.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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