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KEEPING IT REAL: Are NHL Refs Tougher on Canadian Teams?

 Is it my imagination or are the NHL refs favoring the U.S. teams when they play Canadian teams? This radical thought crossed my mind last year during the playoffs: it just seemed to me that whenever I watched a Canadian team in the NHL playoffs come up against ANY U.S. contender, the refs were tougher on the Canadian teams when calling penalties.

That feeling has returned to me this year, and I’m not talking about it happening just when I’m watching the team I personally favour--the Canucks. ANY game I watch pitting a team from north of the border against an American competitor in the playoffs, it seems to me the refs FAIL TO SEE  a lot more violations on the part of the U.S. teams.

Now, I have done no scientific, frame-by-frame examination of the games; I haven’t even counted up the total number of penalties handed out in all the games to all the teams, because even that doesn’t tell all. The timing of penalties and to whom they are handed out can make a critical difference, to be sure, even if the numbers are fairly equal.

Why am I so suspicous, maybe even paranoid, this way?

Because the referees are human beings; they are no doubt well aware that the NHL has been making many concerted special efforts to have hockey succeed in the U.S.  (just ask the people of Quebec City, Hamilton and Winnipeg if they think they are treated equally as potential markets).

And I get the feeling  it would a ratings/advertising  disaster for the NHL and the U.S. networks that carry the games  in the U.S. to have only Canadian teams in the semi-finals or the finals.

Knowledge is power, and I just wonder whether even NHL officials nd referees of the highest professional and personal integrity might be subconsciously aware of  the importance of  having the U.S. teams go as far as possible and are therefore harder on their Canadian-based adversaries?

Watch for yourself.  Am I totally off on this one? Or do you also notice that while Canadian teams get called (quite legitmately!) for most infraction, the U.S. teams get away with more that the refs apparently just don’t see?

And if enough of us notice, maybe an interepid reporter will ask--not the coaches, who would never say anything about that--but Gary Bettman and other league officials.

IS there a double standard? Or is it just me?

This piece originally appeared in Mr. Oberfeld's blog, Keeping it Real. Reprinted with permission.