Whither The Truth?

NHL content to sweep ref scandal under the carpet

Bruce Arthur, National Post  Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010

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Andy Clark, Reuters

If you happen to be walking through National Hockey League headquarters in New York City, watch your step. If you do trip over a large lump in the carpet, however, don't worry -- it's probably just Stephane Auger.

Actually, it's not that the NHL swept its potential refereeing scandal under the carpet so much as pretended it didn't exist.

Auger was assigned to the Calgary-Pittsburgh game in Alberta last night, two days after being accused of calling revenge penalties that cost the Vancouver Canucks a game on Monday. The man who made the rather detailed allegations, Canucks forward Alex Burrows, was fined $2,500 for speaking out.

End of investigation. Nothing more to see here. I presume everyone else has already used some variation of the phrase, "This does not Auger well," so let's just move on the non-pun-related parts of the story.

The story is that after Vancouver's 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators, Burrows went ballistic. He alleged that Auger spoke to him before the game -- there is video evidence to this effect -- and threatened to pay Burrows back for an incident against Nashville earlier this season in which Burrows feigned injury to draw a five-minute charging call.

"He said he was going to get me back," Burrows said after Monday's game.

In the third period Burrows was hit with borderline diving penalty, and late in the game, was assessed a seemingly baseless interference call four seconds into a Canucks power play.

Combined with a subsequent penalty to Henrik Sedin, Nashville had a four-on-three power play on which it scored the winning goal.

"I've never seen anything like it in my whole career," Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo told reporters after the game. "That was the first time I've seen calls like that, especially when the game's on the line."

Other than the calls themselves, the primary evidence came from Burrows, whose testimony sounded pretty plausible. If this guy was going to risk the retaliatory wrath of Auger, the NHL, and every other referee working today, then he would have to be a lunatic if it wasn't true. There has already been speculation that the officials won't be treating Vancouver kindly in the coming months, and Burrows had to know that was a possibility.

Of course, it's also possible Burrows exaggerated whether or not Auger actually threatened to "get him back." It's possible Burrows is a lunatic. Nobody knows the truth other than Auger and Burrows, and Auger isn't talking. All the rest of us can do is weigh the circumstantial evidence and make our best guess.

But here's what doesn't matter: It doesn't matter whether or not Burrows deserved to be punished for being a sneaky, dive-prone, injury-faking pest. And it doesn't matter that Vancouver is a hothouse town when it comes to hockey.

As a native Vancouverite who relinquished his last shred of fandom over the fan reaction to the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, I am well-versed in the madness that Lotusland engenders. But it's beside the point.

And it doesn't matter whether or not Stephane Auger is a good referee or an outrageously incompetent boob. It matters whether he is calling 'em as he is supposed to see 'em.

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