The Final Call

Fraser, Kerry sized

Dr. Relly Nadler: We are really excited this week to have a top performer, Kerry Fraser who has a new book out, “The Final Call.” After well over 2000 games and 30 years wearing stripes, the legendary NHL official, Fraser, dropped his final puck at the end of 2009-10. He relives his colorful career officiating hockey in his candid book.

Kerry, born in 1952 in Sarnia, Ontario, is the most senior referee in the national hockey league. He joined the NHL Officials Association in 1973 and officiated his first game in 1980-81. He retired from officiating after the 2009-10 season but is an active NHL analyst, he lives with his lovely wife Kathy, in New Jersey.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I met Kerry and his lovely wife Kathy at a recent CIA/FBI roundtable that we were conducting to help the MC-LEF organization. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the Marine Core Law Enforcement Foundation which is an organization that provides scholarships and financial support for those who have fallen in the line of duty or for those who have children in need of special assistance.

We were delighted to be able to host Kerry and his wife, Kathy, at our function and at my table. Msgr. Michael Mannion who I’ve been referring to quite a bit lately in our shows who worked with Mother Teresa for over 28 years, as our common denominator.

Kerry is just a hero here in our area, as he is across NHL. Of course that’s because we are the home of the Broadstreet Bullies, a loving name given to our team called the Flyers. Before I bring Kerry on: I’ve been pouring through his book, The Final Call: A Hockey Story from a Legend in Stripes, there’s just a couple of things about him that I’d like our audience to know.

We did say that Kerry has retired from officiating, but like many of us, we continue our journey and Kerry continues his involvement in the National Hockey League community by participating in a TSN.CA blog called named Come On Ref. You’ll hear that a lot when you are on the ice. Come on Ref! You don’t want him to make that call or you want him to do something or intervene.

It’s where Kerry applies his NHL referee experience to many controversial calls in addition to being an analyst on NHL game. It’s funny because his father, Hilton, Hilt Fraser, had him skating at 15 months old. That’s a great story about buying him little skates; chasing pucks at eleven and refereeing by the age of 15.

I love the way he says, at just 5’7” tall, Fraser says that his height contributed to his longevity in the league by forcing him to develop techniques to avoid being hit by the puck. It’s funny.

Fraser currently holds the record for most NHL regular season and playoff games refereed, in addition to calling well over 2000 regular games across the seasons where he was a ref. He did thirteen Stanley Cup Finals and survived, which is saying a lot, over 261 Stanley Cup Playoff games since joining the league in 1980.

He officiated the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, which was the first Olympic tournament to feature NHL participation. He also officiated two All American games in the 2010 NHL Winter Classic.

He’s just an amazing human being. He wore the uniform #2. He was one of the last three NHL officials covered by, I guess what they call the grandfather clause, that allowed him to go without a helmet, thus allowing his signature bouffant hair style. We’ll talk about Kerry’s signature hairstyle as it appears to be somewhat of a current, I should say, comment by many of his teammates who I bump into here and there. Kerry can tell us more about that.

The best thing of all about Kerry, is not only is he a wonderful human being with a wonderful history and many seasons of good fortune as a hero in the NHL industry, but he is also a great dad and a wonderful grandfather. Welcome to the show Kerry.

Kerry Fraser: Thank you so much guys, it’s a pleasure to be with you. I must tell you, I must ask you, where the heck were you when I started my career because I had to figure out that doctors of thought and doctors of emotion? I had to figure it out all on my own in a very hostile environment, particularly when I started in the 1970’s, as Cathy mentioned, the Broadstreet Bullies. That was really rough and tough hockey and even the crowd was hostile. Everybody tried to intimidate the referees and I could have used you back then because, believe me, I had to figure it out on my own.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: As always, we always come in at the last minute.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We want to tap into some of what you did learn. Before we jump into your book and some of the things that you have learned, Kerry, we always like to do a little peek into a person’s history about who has been most influential in your life, either around leadership or development.

Kerry Fraser: You know doctors, when you ask that question of anyone, I think they automatically reflect on their youth and growing up, and I don’t think there can ever be a better influence or a more influential aspect in a young life than the parents.

Certainly my father, both good and bad, I might add. My father was a former professional hockey player. He played in the minor pro leagues and was really a tough guy. He was also a boxer. So I played for him. He was a coach of our great youth hockey teams that won all Ontario championships back in Canada before I went on to play Jr. Hockey, Junior A, which is where the NHL drafts their players from.

In that formative years there was some good stuff that I gathered from tough Hilt Fraser but also some things that I had to adjust and change. They became part of us as youth.

Certainly in my later adult life, I have to say, that Jesus Christ is certainly the most influential person that I’ve ever had. I had a very mystical experience, a number of them, in a conversion starting in 1995.

Probably my wife Kathy would be the most influential person. She grounds me. I’m a Type A personality, I’m a fast mover, I’m a control guy which worked out well in the profession I was thrust into as a referee. But certainly Kathy is a loving, calming, influence and keeps me grounded.

Along my career I had a lot of help, certainly from colleagues and supervision. There was a gentleman by the name of John McCauley who was the Director of NHL Officiating that was a mentor for me. John, unfortunately, passed away after the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals that I worked. Montreal and Calgary where in that final. John, at 44 years of age, suffered a tragic end with pancreatitis. I think of him often, I even talked to him when I was on the ice at certain times. Those are the kinds of sensations and realizations that we never do something on our own. There’s always someone or something that can influence us.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Kerry, I just love two stories that I want to reference before we get into talking about your experience with being a referee and the key behaviors that are learned.

As you were going to your last and final game you had two equipment bags packed. One was your normal bag and the second was the bag that you had nine #2 jerseys in. Could you tell our audience what the purpose of this second bag with the nine #2 jerseys in it was?

Kerry Fraser: Well you know Cathy, I have seven children and eight grandchildren now. So I wanted to at each commercial stoppage, there were three of them per period, to change discretely out of one jersey, mark it as a game worn jersey, and put on a new one for the next segment, if you will, before the next commercial.

So it was something that I wanted to gift to them at the end of my thirty-year career. They grew up in it, they grew up seeing me pack the bag and leave and be away for two weeks at a time, sometimes missing their special events; birthdays, you name it, graduations, and such. So I wanted to share that with him as much as I shared my career with them as well.

There was a fight that broke out and Ian Laperriere was fighting in the third period and it just so happened to coincide with the commercial timeout. I put him in the Philadelphia Flyer penalty box, I snuck in discretely beside him. I pulled a jersey off and put the other on. This French-Canadian kid, really a great guy, he said, Kerry, “what you do?” I said, well I’m talking the jersey off as a game worn jersey, my last game as you know, Lappy, and these jerseys are for my children. He said, “I will buy one. I’ll give you any amount of money, you tell me. I want one of your jerseys.” I said, Lappy, they are not for sale, they are for my children.” He said, “would you adopt me then, I want that jersey.”

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s a great story! The second story that I’d love you to share before we get started is in your forward by Wayne Gretzky, one of the world’s greatest, if not the world’s greatest hockey legend. We have heard of him so many times in leadership training when we talk about visioning because it was Gretzky who said, “you look to where the puck will be and you skate in that direction,” right, you don’t go to where the puck is, you envision where the puck will be.

We use a lot of that same visualization when we talk about leaders. But in his forward to you, he basically testifies in this short preface and he says, “Hockey was Kerry’s career and his passion, but he always kept things in perspective. His book makes clear that his family and faith were and are the most important and enduring things in his life. Sometimes a referee doesn’t get much respect from anyone; the fans, the players, the coaches, all of us can be pretty hard on them. Kerry was probably the most fair and consistent of any NHL Hockey referee and you were voted the most consistent referee by a wide margin which shows just how highly the players regarded your officiating.” In closing Gretzky says, “We can all agree that they have an extremely tough job to do. I’m grateful for Kerry’s enjoyable and fascinating look at his career and life and since 1994 Kerry has worn #2 on his jersey, but for myself and thousands of hockey fans around the world, Kerry will always be #1.”


Kerry Fraser: Well you know, Wayne taught me something in my very first season. He taught me something that stuck with me throughout my career. It was through a confrontation we had in a game in Edmonton that I’ll share with you in a little while. There are things that we bring to the table, things that we don’t even know about relative to character and strength and decision making, and how we deal with emotion or when we are challenged whether we fight or flight.

The one thing that Wayne also wrote in that forward that was very meaningful for me, he said “As any player does, I had a few run-ins with Kerry over those years. In fact, it was probably more than a few. I don’t think he was always right, but I know I wasn’t either. Players and refs often don’t see things the same way in the middle of the game, but one thing Kerry always had from every player, was respect.”

You know that’s the think I strove for the most, doctors, was to be respected. It wasn’t about being liked because in that role of an arbitrator, a police officer; anyone that is in that position of authority can often be viewed differently and sometimes with disdain. But, I didn’t want them to necessarily like me, although that is a basic human need, I wanted them to respect me. I found ways and developed ways of developing respect and rapport through communication skills that I didn’t possess when I entered the career and the profession. It was a learning as you go experience, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have Dr. Nadler and Dr. Greenberg to help me along the way.

Being thoughtful and being reflective, looking and analyzing in an honest way my performance each night, I learned a tremendous amount about myself and what would prove successful in making the game better, which was my objective, and a game that I loved so much.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Kerry, let’s talk about the book. Why did you decide to call it, “The Final Call” and where did you get the idea and the inspiration?

Kerry Fraser: Well, first of all, the title was something that I anguished over. The Last Call sounds like the last call for alcohol at a bar, I didn’t want that connotation. But it really was bringing finality, I thought, to a 30-year career. I was known, depending on the marketplace, for different controversial kinds of calls that I made. It just kept coming back to my role was about making calls. Making the tough calls. You are expected to keep control of things, enforcing rules and providing player safety. So, it all came to rules and how I applied them with sound judgement. That’s where “The Final Call” came from. It was my last one before I stepped off the ice and that game in 2010 on the last day of the regular season.

In terms of why I decided to write a book; I loved the game and I loved people and I loved what I did. So I would walk into a restaurant or a bar after a game with my colleagues and I was highly recognizable. I didn’t wear a helmet, one of a few that did not. Fans would be staring at me or scowling and I’d approach them. I found that body language was important so I tried to disarm them quickly with a smile and an extended hand, introduced myself by name. They knew who I was. I asked them right off the bat, did you have a question for me? Yah, I’ve got a question for you and they would be rather aggressive. I would answer their question with patience and calmness. They would then ask a second question, and then a third. Before I knew it, it was more about getting them into the game on the other side of the glass.

They wanted to know when I talked to Gretzky on the ice, what did I say. If I talked to a coach at a certain time in a game, what was being said, what was the exchange. Their ticket that they bought, at the very best, they got the one row behind the glass. They wanted to be on the ice. They wanted to be on the other side. By writing this book and sharing my experiences and the stories and my philosophy of officiating and how to deal with people, even more so. Sometimes being the morality police on the ice and not just the referee. When things got carried away, when players would stoop to a level below the bar that I felt needed to be set, I would intervene for his apology sometimes. There are some great stories on that from behind the scenes. People are just amazed, I guess, would be the best word to describe how a referee could enforce sort of a moral code on the ice in a game that is so violent at times and physical.

I wanted to bring people and vast market hockey fans, into my world and show them really what it was like. I talked about the great players that they saw that they didn’t know other than from what they saw on television or in the arena.

So from that perspective, it was a best-seller in hard cover and has been a best-seller in paperback. It sprung me to a secondary career as a hockey analyst with TSN, which is the ESPN of Canada.

Dr. Relly Nadler: That’s fascinating. Cathy you’ve got the book; I’m going to have to go out and get it. You heard us in the beginning, Kerry, talking about how emotions are contagious and in sports, it’s probably the most contagious—one with the players and then with the fans. As you said so well as a referee, what would you say are some of the key behaviors for a referee? You are probably the one person that you would hope is kind of the most rational and the maybe the least emotional of probably everybody in the arena.

Kerry Fraser: Well, Relly, I must tell you, that when I was thrust on the scene, I was a good little player. I played at the Junior A level in Canada where I was the captain of the Sarnia Bee’s. I was on draft and I had scholarship offers to Division One schools in the US. I wasn’t looking at 20-years-old to move into the academic arena. I was perhaps going to play minor professional hockey, the American Hockey League or in that lower level, just below the NHL.

It was recommended to me that I should get into officiating because I understood the game as a player, I was a good skater, and the gentleman who ended coaching the Detroit Redwings handed me a brochure to referee school. I signed up, it was five days, I went to the school in the fall of 1972, and found myself scouted and recruited by the NHL Officiating Department at that short camp. Two days later I was invited and present at the NHL training camp for officials. They put me in the system, they signed me to an NHL contract, and I was off and running armed with a whistle, with a jersey, and the authority that came with it.

I was a tough little player, I talked about my father Hilt who was real tough guy and a boxer. I played for him. Even at my small stature, I was a go to guy that he tapped on the shoulder whenever there was something that needed to be attended from a physical perspective on the ice.

So I fought a fair amount. I was fast, I had fast hands, and I could fight better scared than they could mad, so I did pretty well in that regard.

While it helped me and served me well in my playing days, once I became an official it was holding me back. That aggressive chip-on-the-shoulder, little man syndrome, that I didn’t realize and recognize, that was part of me that I had grown up with to that point, and now I was in a different role within the game. I had to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Yet, I had that chip on the shoulder, I would not be intimidated, someone got in my face, I would throw it back at them. I had the authority so I could penalize them. I could give them 10 minute misconducts and put them in the box if they showed disrespect towards me.

You know I had a firm lesson at a very early game. The home team was losing badly and frustration is an element that we as referees have to deal with. When teams and players are frustrated they misbehave as a result. This team was just getting crushed at home and every time they got scored on a player would come up and get in my face and say something disrespectful. I’d bang my hips and give them a misconduct. Towards the end of the game I had this team sitting three or four deep in the penalty box. Finally, the coach had enough of me and he sent over his captain. Very respectfully he said, “Mr. referee, my coach wants to know if we can get penalty for thinking?” I looked at him, I said, well, as long as he doesn’t think out loud then it might be okay.

The captain said, well in that case, he things you are a blank, blank, a-hole. Well, I found humor in it. I started to smile and then I chuckled, and I looked over at the coach who had pursed lips and hands on his hips and was angry, and he saw my reaction, and he smiled, his mood lightened, he started to laugh. It taught me a valuable lesson; #1 don’t take yourself so seriously and you can find some humor; relax a little bit.

Want to hear the rest of the story? You can listen to the complete interview above, without commercials.


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