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Kalamazoo at Komets
Face-off: 8 p.m. Friday
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
It's an exercise in futility.
When the referee makes a call, the players know he's not going to change his mind. Never happened, never will.
So why do the captain and alternates always rush to the boundary of the official scorer's box whenever a penalty is called? They can't wait to talk to the referee. Soon the players all sound like 5-year-olds, always demanding "Why?"
"It can be anything from joking around to asking him what he's seeing,'' Komets alternate captain Chris Auger said. "It's just trying to develop a good rapport with them. You can ask them for explanations, they give it to you and that's it.''
But everybody tries to talk to and influence the referee. It's like they have nothing better to do, so they might as well take a chance.
"It depends on the situation, but most of the time I just ask him to keep an eye on certain things another team may be doing,'' alternate captain Brandon Marino said. "If I'm not calm, I really can't tell you what I say.''
Yes, much of the discussion is explicit, especially in the heat of the moment. The players don't say, "Mr. Referee, could you please reconsider your decision?" It's unlikely most of the conversation could be printed, though players have to show some respect.
Sometimes the players are told by coach Gary Graham to go ask the referee for an explanation. Except the coaches don't ask that nicely.
"I think they are used to coaches ranting and raving, but you just look at the ref and say, 'I can't control what that idiot says,' and you go from there,'' Auger said with a grin. "The refs laugh and tell me to tell him to settle down. You say 'All right, I'll talk to him when I get to the bench.' Then Gary will ask 'What did he say?' and I tell him, 'Nothing.' ''
And then Auger just laughs.
"I say, 'Gary just sent me over, you want to hear a funny joke?' '' captain Kaleigh Schrock said. "He says, 'Yeah,' listens and shakes his head, and I go tell Gary he said it was an obvious trip.''
Graham prefers to let his captains talk to the referees mostly, and he says he's working on controlling himself from the bench. He learned from one of the greatest ref-baiters of all time in Al Sims, who once got kicked out of a playoff game for yelling something at the ref that was so loud that no one had to be able to read lips to tell what he said. Graham is trying to be more civil.
"Sometimes you need to have a line of communication with them if you feel that you are not on the same page with them,'' Graham said. "A referee on any given night is going to call a game a certain way, and I'm getting a feel for these refs in this league because I never had them before.
"If something is called that I felt was not called earlier in the game, sometimes I just want to open a dialogue with them. I'll say, 'Where are we at here, because this is the exact same thing my captains came up and asked you about?' It's all about communication.''
Sometimes players will try to talk to the referee to let him know what's going on that he may be missing. The Komets talked quite a bit to the referee recently about the way Kalamazoo's Justin Taylor likes to crash the net.
"And they were yelling at him the whole time,'' Komets forward Mike Embach said. "They know which guys play certain styles.''
A few weeks ago Komets defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin was called for a tripping penalty against Kalamazoo's Matt Firman. From the referee's position well behind the play, it looked like an obvious call, but Firman was actually more than 5 feet in front of Danis-Pepin, who never touched the Wings player.
Soon after there was a timeout on the ice, and Danis-Pepin came out to stand next to the ref for about a minute before heading back to the penalty box.
"When that happens, there's really not much you can say to the refs,'' Danis-Pepin said. "I just told him, 'You know you missed that one, right?' He was like, 'Yeah, that was the worst call I ever made in my career,' and he was serious.''
Unlike fans, the players realize they themselves aren't perfect, so they don't expect the referees to be, either. Everyone on the ice is trying to move up to the next level.
What everyone hopes for is to influence the next call. Referees will deny there are such things as makeup calls, but players and coaches believe in them. Players believe a good attitude with officials can help a team, though of course none of them want to be quoted as saying that.
"I try to keep them happy, really,'' Schrock said. "They are human beings, and if you tick them off they are going to screw you. The team needs to do a better job of that, really. We talk about it on the bench, but it's hard to do. If things aren't going your way and you get on the refs, they are human and they are going to make it harder on you. We just need to be positive and just skate to the box when they give us a penalty.''
But, frankly, the Komets are one of the more talkative teams around. They'll talk to anybody wearing stripes, sometimes about a call, the way a linesman is too particular on faceoffs or anything else.
"We joke around them about offsides and icings and stuff,'' defenseman Jordon Southorn said. "They are in the game, too, and they know hockey.
"In the last game before Christmas, I had a linesman ask me if I was going home to Montreal for the break.''
After Southorn replied affirmatively, the linesman said, "Well, we'll be following each other.''
Then the linesman blew his whistle to resume play.