MONTREAL – Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser says some people probably won’t think it’s much of a stretch for him to appear at a comedy festival.
“There’s a lot of people who thought whenever I worked I was a joke,” he quipped in a telephone interview as he got ready to appear in the “Bumps, Bruises and Bedtime Stories” show at Just For Laughs on Friday.
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Fraser won’t be doing standup in the show in the hockey-mad city where any reference to punchlines and hockey usually refers to the nickname of a famous Montreal Canadiens line of the 1940s.
But he will team up with Jim McKenzie, a former Nashville Predators left-winger, and ex-Philadelphia Flyer “Broad Street Bully” Dave (The Hammer) Schultz to give an insider’s take on Canada’s national game through humorous anecdotes and video clips.
Fraser, who joined the NHL in 1980 and called more than 1,900 regular-season games, had to deal with his share of hecklers in his 30 years in the NHL, including the legendary Wayne Gretzky.
The ex-ref says Gretzky is one of only two players to ever ”thank” him for calling a penalty – in Gretzky’s case a 1981 game against the Flyers.
Gretzky’s gratitude was mocking when he groused that Fraser didn’t call any penalties against his opponents for various perceived infractions. Fraser told The Great One there was nobody even close to him and that he wasn’t going to call a penalty.
Gretzky profanely snapped he hadn’t called anything all night, prompting Fraser to hit No. 99 with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
He says Gretzky sarcastically grumbled, “Thanks. It’s about effing time you called something.”
The other player was McKenzie, who wanted Fraser to penalize him at the end of his second season in the league and asked him whether he would give him a misconduct if he swore at him.
Fraser said he was incredulous because it was a nothing game and it was all but over.
“He (McKenzie) said, ‘I’ve got a bonus in my contract for penalty minutes. I’m four penalty minutes short and the coach never played me one shift tonight.”
Fraser and McKenzie then staged a mock angry exchange, culminating in the player swearing loudly at him as part of the charade.
McKenzie got a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
“He said, ‘Thank you,’ very quietly, with a big smile on his face, and he went toward the dressing room,” Fraser said.
The then-referee had to bolt off the ice to grab the timekeepers to get them to record it.
Fraser says this is the type of anecdote people love to hear but can hardly believe.
“It’s the stuff that ‘Slap Shot’ is made of,” he added, citing the famous hockey movie starring Paul Newman.
Ironically, the show has lost one player because of an injury.
Former Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins tough guy Chris Nilan was originally on the bill but there will be no chuckles from Knuckles after he had to withdraw because of ankle surgery.
Fraser, who last officiated in the 2009-2010 season, noted Nilan played more than 500 games in his career.
“He had over 3,100 penalty minutes, which translated into 51 complete games sitting in the penalty box over his career,” Fraser said. “That’s a lot.”
Fraser said he always kept his eye on Nilan and recalled when he ejected him from a game for knocking another player’s teeth out with his stick.
Nilan appealed the penalty and defended himself before a hearing by saying that Fraser picked on him in games.
“If he had been watching what he should have been watching, which was the play going up ice with Boston, he would not have seen me butt-head Rick Middleton (with the stick) in the mouth,” Fraser recalled Nilan claiming.
“Serge Savard just about spit his coffee all over the boardroom table.”
Fraser said Nilan received an eight-game suspension.
Fraser doesn’t lack for material, like the time he was told to delay dropping the puck because of a commercial break. He didn’t realize he was being pranked and the game wasn’t being televised.
Joey Elias, the professional comic who’ll be refereeing the event, says he’s looking forward to being on stage with the hockey legends.
“What people don’t realize about professional athletes is they all have a gift for the gab,” said Elias, who is a rabid hockey fan.
“It’s quite funny to be around them. They can’t remember what they did yesterday but they can tell you in great detail about a goal, a hit, a fight.”
Elias pointed out Friday’s show will be unique.
“Kerry Fraser reffed a lot of games where these guys were involved,” he said of the show. “It could be very interesting if they hold a grudge.”