Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final defined misery for a generation of Toronto Maple Leafs fans and gave way to what Wayne Gretzky has called his greatest game ever played.
But were it not for a controversial non-call by referee Kerry Fraser — Gretzky’s missed high-stick on Leafs star Doug Gilmour — a seventh and deciding game, won by the Los Angeles Kings, might not have been necessary.
In a candid piece published Tuesday for The Players’ Tribune, Fraser reveals in detail what he saw (and didn’t see) on the play and explained why if he had one career mulligan, he would go back in time and put the Great One in the box.
Here are some excerpts:
As the Kings set up on the power play, I was down by the far circle, away from the puck. In my brain, this is what I was processing:
Gretzky gets the puck. He shoots it, and my eyes go to the net. But Jamie Macoun blocks it. The puck rebounds between Gretzky and Doug Gilmour. When my eyes go back to Gretzky, I see a motion. Gilmour goes down. Did Gretzky’s stick follow through and catch him? Gilmour’s bent over now. He’s got blood on his chin.
And I have no idea what happened. That’s a helpless, helpless feeling. Under the 1993 rules, if Gretzky high-sticks Gilmour and it draws blood, it’s a five-minute major. He’s gone. It was a huge call to make — a worse one to miss.
Guys from both teams were skating up to me. It didn’t smell right. I should have known when I saw Gretzky skating away. Whenever there was a dispute, Gretz was always at the forefront arguing his side of it. But this time, he kind of slinked away. That was uncharacteristic. That should have tipped me off. But to be honest, I was attempting to roll back the play in my mind, over and over, looking for some measure of recall that would provide the evidence I needed.
I’m starting to think, Did I miss this?
I skated to my linesmen and said, “Guys, help me out.”
Rob Finn had the balls of an elephant.
He said, “Kerry, I didn’t see it. I was looking through their backs.”
Kevin Collins, who had conducted the end zone face-off said, “Well… I dunno.”
I had to make a decision. In referee school, they hammer it into you: Call what you see. Don’t guess. The honest to God truth is, I didn’t see it. I had to eat it. I said, “No penalty.”
The next faceoff, Gretzky stays in the game and scores to win it. He went on to have the game of his career in Game 7, and the Kings went to the finals. At the time, I had no idea the call would follow me for the rest of my life.
After the game, the NHL’s director of officiating Brian Lewis came into the referee’s room and said, “Good job tonight, guys.” We really thought we got it right. There weren’t all the slow-motion cameras like they have today. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw another angle of the play on television. You could clearly see Gretzky high-sticking Gilmour.
It was missed. Period.
It was agony for Leafs fans. I understand the passion, the emotion and the frustration that Leafs fans have endured. They felt it was their time. When people come up to me and ask about it now, I just try to have a conversation with them. If I had one opportunity to turn back the hands of time for a “do over” it would be to catch that high-stick.
I accepted being hated — I probably played into it sometimes — but what I struggled with was being misunderstood. It troubles me that people would think I avoided making a call because of the star-status of Gretz or any potential ramifications to me personally. It’s just not who I am or how I’m wired.
For Leafs fans, Fraser’s regrets on the Gretzky-Gilmour incident will surely be the highlight of the first-person article, but his Tribune piece contains some great anecdotes about Theo Fleury and Fraser’s own father.
It’s worth a read in its entirety here.