Unhappy Trails, Don Koharski: The Game Will Be Better Off Without You

donuts.jpgIn a few days, NHL referee Don Koharski will raise his arm in signal for a phantom infraction for the final time in regular season play. The league of course will fete Koharski with all manner of praise and congratulations for his career, as will, perhaps, the NHLPA. Perhaps. But count me among the thousands of hockey fans who, while acknowledging Koharski’s commitment to his profession, and the very real injuries he incurred and sacrifices he made in its execution, won’t miss him one iota on opening night next season.

Koharski started in the NHL as a linesman in 1977, and by 1980 he’d earned the duties of a referee. He’s made few admirers since.

I don’t doubt that Koharski gave it his very best effort on virtually every night he worked an NHL arena. My principal problem with Koharski is that his name is too recognizable for his profession — that he is better known than many of the league’s players is, ipso facto, evidence that all too often he was too much a central player in the NHL’s nightly drama.

I’m ready for a fresh young face to take his place — and especially if he’s a young official interested very much in pursuing a career low in its on-ice profile. If Koharski’s replacement is someone who aims to keep the relative peace in a knotted up third period and allow those whom 18,000 paid to see decide the outcome, I’ll yearn for Koharski’s earlier retirement.

If you were a reader of OFB late last April you may recall our position the moment the identities of the referees were announced for Game 7 here against the Flyers. It could be summed up with this single word: dread. I won’t suggest that Koharski cost the Caps’ that game, but perhaps you recall it ending in controversial fashion. Kerry Frasier has his faults to be sure, but when was the last game 7 he worked ending as last April’s here did?  

After that game 7 fiasco, was it any surprise that Koharski wasn’t selected to be a referee for the Stanley Cup finals? Four of his less experienced peers were — Paul Devorski, Brad Watson, Dan O’Halloran, and Marc Joannette. For a referee of Koharski’s tenure, what a savage indictment. And how savagely appropriate.

You might enjoy knowing this as well about his career: Koharski was selected to work game 3 of the 1987 Canada Cup finals . . . due in no small part to his being requested to officiate it by the Russian team. If any ref was gonna give the benefit of the infraction doubt Russia’s way, it would seem, it was Don Koharski.

I doubt Jim Schoenfeld was surprised.     

Speaking of Schoeny . . .  

After a 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Wales Conference Finals in 1988, New Jersey Devils Coach Jim Schoenfeld had a few things to say to Koharski. Schoenfeld blocked Koharski’s exit from the ice to “inform” him of how he had basically given the game to Bruins. Koharski wanted nothing of it and began to walk to the official’s dressing room and took a tumble, much like a toddler does.

Presumably unhappy with the situation and looking for someone to blame it on, Koharski pointed an accusatory finger at Schoeny. Stan Fischler had perhaps the best recounting of the situation in his book, Pain and Progress: “Oh, you’re gone now! You’re gone. You won’t coach another…” shouted Koharski.

Schoeny shot back, “You fell and you know it. You know you fell. I didn’t touch you.”

Koharski: “You’re gone. You’re gone. And I hope it’s on tape.”

Schoenfeld: “Good, ’cause you fell you fat pig. Have another doughnut.”

The rest of the story isn’t really important. The league, predictably, sided with Koharski, and Schoeny was suspended until a court suspended the ruling. It was just one of the many sideshows in Koharski’s “high profile” career. 

Don Koharski is one of the most well known names in the NHL, even more than some players. It’s sad because as referee he is not supposed to be the focal point of the game, he is supposed to make sure the game stays fair and clean. He joins the ranks of the Eddy Hightower and Ed Houchuli’s of sports. They are the refs that think they are actually the star players.

It’s a shame that Koharski will exit the NHL with potentially the fanfare of a retiring legend of a player. Well, not that much fanfare from the fans.

Fans, players, coaches and journalists alike, all too often over the past 30 years, were unable to see the logic or justification in too many of Koharski’s calls. Personally if he was to never set foot on a regulation sized hockey rink again I would die happy. This is one thing that perhaps even the bitterest of rivals can come together on in agreement.

There are so many other league officials deserving of recognition — for their remaining anonymous relative to the action on the ice. For instance Stephen Walkom has officiated more than 600 regular season games, 84 Stanley Cup playoff games and two Stanley Cup Fianls. I bet you have never heard of Walkom’s accomplishments — and that’s as it should be. 

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8 Responses to Unhappy Trails, Don Koharski: The Game Will Be Better Off Without You

  1. TG says:

    I know people dislike Fraser, but I think that’s more because he’s recognizable. The most you can ask from a ref is that he make consistent calls, and with Fraser, you know what you’re going to get from game to game. The fans/players/etc. may not like it/agree with it, but he’s extremely consistent.
    I never got that feeling from Koharski. Ever. Even within a game, I could never tell what was going to be a penalty and what wasn’t and why.
    And I never understood why the NHL kept him and not some of the other refs that I thought were decent.

  2. Marty says:

    McCreary ,Devorski , and Shick can follow that idiot out the door too. Just plain hate the way they call games and in McCreary’s case doesn’t call game.

  3. Ed says:

    Speaking of officials who think they are the stars: When hockey season ends, keep an eye out for a baseball umpire by the name of Angel Hernandez. He’s terrible in regards to that.
    @Marty: Rob Shick is retiring / has already retired this year, so one of your wishes has been granted.
    Farewell, Officer Koharski. One of the NHL’s more “interesting” officials is leaving (good). But at least we still have Don VanMassenhoven…

  4. Tyler says:

    Oh man Angel Hernandez is terrible! I forgot about him. Let’s welcome back baseball season with open arms, haha.
    I’m glad to see Koharski go. It really wouldn’t surprise me if something came out about him not unlike what happened to Tim Donaghy in the NBA…
    It seems like Bill McCreary is one of the few refs who actually keeps things under control most of the time. Fraser not so much.
    Is it just me, or does it seem like the Caps get more bullshit calls against them than any other team in the known universe?

  5. Cookie Monster says:

    Nice doughnut poster, where did you find that gem?

  6. Wes says:

    I think we all agree that Koharski is a twit. But its a little unfair to lump Ed Hochuli in with that group. Sure his biceps are the size of a linebacker’s but he’s consistently been rated one of the best refs in the league. He made one, albeit huge, miscall. But, he realized it right away and he actually owned up to it after the game and apologized. If it weren’t for the leagues idiotic replay rules, Hochuli would have gone back and made the correct call right then. If that isn’t what you look for in a ref, I don’t know what is.

  7. PM2416 says:

    Nice check from behind on Koharski as he skates away….seriously, I think you have a bigger beef with the old-school one-ref NHL and its perpetual struggle to find the correct standard of play. The NHL finally came into the 20th century a couple of years AFTER it ended when it went to two refs. The standard is better (and it has helped high-skill teams like the Caps) but there is still work to be done.
    In the old one-ref world just about EVERY ref did something to piss off someone eventually. Koharski was a bit more flamboyant than many, so he sticks in your craw, while I am sure others would lambaste (insert your most hated ref’s name here). Me, I can still remember some nights at the Cap Centre where I thought Alf Lejeune had just arrived from another planet.
    So your professional obit for Koharski sounds whiny and petty. You sound no better than the morons who used to hoot Larry Murphy out of DC (all the way to the Stanley Cup and HOF).
    BTW, Stephen Walkom has not officiated an NHL game in nearly four years, so I am not surprised his name is not on the tip of your tongue.

  8. TLS says:

    Interestingly enough, the HNIC pre-game show on NHL Network tonight is running a glowing treatment of Koharski even as we speak…

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