On February 18, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice was ejected from a game in Tampa Bay against the lightning after hurling minutes of profanity laced verbal abuse at the officials. The brunt of the more colourful language started after a sequence of two hits by Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman within a few seconds of each other.
Jets D man Nikolaj Ehlers found himself caught in the trolley tracks across the blueline and was met by Stralman, who caught the leg of Ehlers and sent him sprawling. Moments later, Jets forward Bryan Little was racing through the neutral zone while being chased by another Tampa player. In fighting through the backchecking pressure, Little put his head down and surged forward to escape. Stralman found his line, stepped up, and showed no mercy on the vulnerable Little. Paul Marice was somewhat displeased, shall we say, and was thrown out of the game right before the third period.
Going through the timeline, I think the hit on Ehlers was fine. There was no extra movement by Stralman to guarantee contact on the leg. You cut across the blueline, you take your chances.
The hit on Little is a tough one, because it’s one of those hits where Little is in a position that almost guarantees his head will be the first thing hit. The problem is that Little shifts his head at the last second, causing more exposure by himself. Stralman already had him lined up and was committed to the hit. Stralman didn’t throw himself forward or anything. Again, he didn’t do anything extra. I think it comes down to whether you think he should have thrown the hit at all, or whether in the name of safety he should have given Little a free pass because he was vulnerable. Given the situation (probable breakaway for Little) if Stralman doesn’t hit him, in this case it might be a lot to ask.
All in all, I walk away thinking both the Stralman hits were fine. Paul Maurice on the other hand, did not. He was HOT. A lot of people are criticizing the officials. They’ve been accused of standing there and challenging Maurice to cross the line, waiting for it. I think they were remarkably cool headed myself, especially in the first few minutes. Every camera in the world recorded the unmentionable words coming out of his mouth, and those verbal jabs were all landing direct hits. They let Maurice say his piece and get it out. No problem. But the man had an entire intermission to settle himself down.
Remember, it was late in the second when the hit occurred, and it was after teams came out for the start of the third that Maurice was finally sent home. When a coach comes out from the locker room and is still all guns blazing, he’s pretty much asking for it.
As far as the ref laughing as he’s about to drop the puck, I don’t take too much stock in it. He just had to make a big decision, to throw a coach out. That’s not easy. He’d been under a lot of heat over the last half an hour, probably going over in his mind whether he made the right call on the Stralman hit. He’d had to deal with an onslaught verbal abuse. In general, he hadn’t had much fun and it was pretty stressful. Almost no referee wants to be the centre of attention (almost), and he’d been right in the thick of the spotlight.
I think that laugh isn’t a statement of not taking things seriously, like it’s a joke to him. I think it could also just as easily be the exact opposite, a form of release of all the recent mental stress. It’s kind of a reset. We’ve all done it before. Time to laugh it off to diffuse it and hopefully everyone will move on.