SUN Hockey Pool

Inside hockey's War Room

Former NHL player Kris King, now Vice President of NHL Hockey Operations, monitors NHL games in the...

Former NHL player Kris King, now Vice President of NHL Hockey Operations, monitors NHL games in the NHL War Room in downtown Toronto on October 30, 2010. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:34 AM ET

TORONTO -- It's known in NHL circles as the War Room.

For fans, it would be classified as heaven.

It is here where every minute of every game is monitored closely with an eye on ensuring bad behaviour is dealt with appropriately and all questionable goals are reviewed immediately.

On this night there are ten staffers monitoring all 14 games on close to two-dozen high-defnition TV screens.

Dressing room-type banter peppers the mish-mash of play-by-play callers from coast-to-coast as the eyes and ears of the league settle in to do what millions of Canadians do in their living rooms: watch hockey.

Difference being, these guys get paid for it.

When it's pointed out the only thing missing is beer and grub, a bag of caramel corn is chucked on the table with news dinner had been delivered earlier.

"When I bring in friends or people who want to see what we do they're in awe of the whole setup," admitted tough guy-turned Sr. Director of hockey operations Kris King, sitting comfortably in a sweatshirt, jeans and crocs as he's surrounded by a trio of monitors showing late games.

"All my buddies would trade places anytime to come watch hockey games. I tell them to come in the middle of February at 1:30 in the morning and see if they have the same opinion."

Added hockey operations Sr. VP Mike Murphy, "I tell everyone who asks that for one week it's heaven in here - after that it's work."

Make no mistake, these guys love their jobs.

But glamorous it isn't.

Located high above the Air Canada Centre as part of the NHL's 11th-floor Toronto office is where the nerve centre operates nightly. On a rare night in which the NHL's chief disciplinarian, Colin Campbell, is not overseeing the proceedings, Murphy sits at the front of the room where two massive screens are split into up to eight feeds at a time.

Answering repeated phone calls and emails from Campbell throughout the evening (he's watching everything from home), everything stops when anything out of the ordinary crops up on anyone's TV.

"We okay in St. Louis? Just boys being boys?" barks out Murphy, knowing the staffer specifically in charge of the game has a handle on it.

"We've got a knee Murph," says another staffer, prompting several others to stray from their assigned games to watch Shane Doan and Pavel Kubina duke it out following an awkward hit on Keith Yandle.

"Good call in Colorado - off the post and in," yells out E.J. McGuire, director of the league's Central Scouting bureau.

"We might have a penalty shot in Calgary," fires out another voice after Mark Giordano hacks down Dave Steckel.

Indeed it is, prompting undivided attention as all such showdowns are scrutinized.

"I'm good with that goal," said Murphy of the Steckel shot - the same thing he said to the league official stationed in Calgary earlier in the night when a puck bounced in off Olli Jokinen's leg.

While players, fans and coaches often urge officials to look at replays, suffice it to say anything near a goal is already being reviewed in Toronto within seconds.

"In here we probably review formally 400 plays a year and informally maybe 800," said Murphy.

"I'll contact a rink and say, 'I'll just take a look at it.' He may say, 'I saw it and it's okay.' Whenever we question something we get right to them and tell them to hold on as we're on it. Anything off a crossbar or a great save in tight or pucks on the goal line we'll review it right away."

Most in the room sit with a bank of three screens in front of them, monitoring two or three games depending on the schedule. Staffers document good and questionable calls by the officials on an electronic game report they fill out for director of officiating Terry Gregson. They're also looking for video clips on a wide range of things including disturbing or encouraging trends in the game. Case in point: One of the video's compiled by war room staff was presented at last week's GM meetings, showing rare opportunities players passed up to make the type of dangerous hits the NHL is trying so hard to eliminate.

On this night one video being packaged up for Campbell features a last-minute, premeditated crosscheck to the head of Frans Nielsen off a faceoff, sparking a melee.

"This game's getting stupid," said Murphy as Dan Carcillo and Rick DiPietro flail around like idiots.

"The Islanders are hoping we're watching because if we're watching this then this gets taken care of properly. You can't behave like that in our game. If you do you lose your right to play. Off the top of my head - and I probably shouldn't say this because Colin hasn't had all the evidence in - he's probably going to be out 2 or 3 games and a sizeable amount of money. I didn't like what I saw and we've taken a lot of that out of the game."

Indeed, days later Briere was banished for three games and fined almost a quarter million dollars as a repeat offender.

"(Supplementary discipline) is probably the most talked-about part of the job but really the biggest part of the job is caretaking the games," said Murphy.

"We want to make sure they're played fairly and the refs are doing their jobs."

Because the feeds from every game aren't fibre optic (which will be rectified soon) there's a six-second delay, which makes it crucial goals are reviewed immediately as there's generally about 20 seconds before the puck drops again. On-ice officials know this and will often find ways to buy time for the war room following a controversial play.

"We see a play and might not like it and when I flick this switch a light flashes in that arena's booth," said Murphy, pointing to a wall of buttons that can instantly connect him to every rink.

"Then I go to the intercom and I say 'put the refs on the intercom' and I'll ask 'what call did you make on the ice?' Then we'll review it and make our assessment. Once it comes to us it's our call."

Three quarters of all goal reviews are determined by the camera stationed directly over the net - one of the only camera's owned by the league. Otherwise, all feeds reviewed come courtesy of the host broadcast crew.

The war room became front and centre recently as a game-winning goal by Toronto's Colton Orr shouldn't have counted due to goalie interference - a call that was out of Murphy's jurisdiction. He's glad the notion of a coach's challenge was rejected at Tuesday's GM meetings as he'd rather keep most things in the hands of the on-ice officials.

"Those are hard pills to swallow," said Murphy of a call the league admitted was missed.

"We're disappointed but you can imagine the refs are even more disappointed. The officials do an outstanding job but we miss calls every night in every game but usually it doesn't have that sort if impact on the game."

As the evening progresses, talk in the room often revolves around the "temperature" of games. High scores are bad, often promoting silliness.

As the west coast games come to a close the room empties out after staffers file their game reports.

"It's an important job and I feel very fortunate to be able to stay in the game in this aspect," said King who amassed over 2000 penalty minutes before joining the league ten years ago.

"We bitch and moan a little bit but we have a good bunch of guys in here who like to kid each other. For guys who spend this much time together in this small room you wouldn't think we get along this well - it's like a dressing room. That's what I miss the most about not playing - other than the night before the game meals - the camaraderie. Everybody is fair game but the jokes get worse as the night goes on."

So does the chance of hijinks.

So the boys keep watching.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panelist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada


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