Former NHL official Dan Marouelli retired last year, but he still has opinions on how the game of hockey should be called.
Marouelli, who refereed four Stanley Cup Final series (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003) and 187 playoff games during his 28-year career, has taken a keen interest in Wednesday's Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (CBC, CBCSportsca., 8 p.m. ET) especially in light of recent events.
In a lengthy conversation with CBCSports.ca, Marouelli talks about Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome's illegal hit on Boston forward Nathan Horton, and how Rome's four-game suspension and Horton being knocked out of the rest of the playoffs will affect the proceedings in Game 4.
CBCSports.ca: What impact, if any, will the suspension to Rome have on how the officials call the game tonight?
Marouelli: [NHL senior vice president of hockey operations] Mike Murphy took the initiative to suspend Rome for four games and that sends a very a strong message. In doing so, it reinforces or gives the officials the confidence to go out and do their job.
It's a trickle-down effect. [Canucks forward] Raffi Torres nailed [Chicago defenceman] Brent Seabroook behind the net in the first round of the playoffs. This Rome incident didn't build up all of a sudden. Had somebody suspended Torres and not used the rule book or used it to interpret the north-south criteria, and instead that message been sent in round one, Mike Murphy might not have been faced with the Nathan Horton thing. Nathan Horton still might be playing because the deterrent was already established and the message was sent to the players.
CBCSports.ca: Will the NHL talk to the officials before the game tonight?
Marouelli: Absolutely. Terry Gregson [the NHL's director of officiating] and Kris King [series supervisor] will sit down with them for sure. The big message Terry and Kris will send to them is that the precedent has been set. There's been a lack of discipline. It was a very aggressive hockey game last time. I would be looking to have them set the tone early in this hockey game. But they will also tell them not to overreact, and therein lies the fine line. Gregson and King will inform both coaches and both GMs of the direction the officials will go if things start to go south tonight.
CBCSports.ca: How do officials tread that fine line?
Marouelli: You need to establish your presence early, and normally that's through some form of verbal communication with the coaches or role players who are out on the ice. Any time when I was involved in games like this, I was quick to verbalize to the bench and to any players that needed to be cautioned, and then make sure you follow through quickly when something happens.
I always used to tell the other officials to make sure the players earn their fouls. Let's not overreact. The trouble with what has happened here is that there has been some inconsistency and things got a little out of hand the last game and the guys did their best to keep things under wraps. What they have to do tonight is jump on that. You wipe the slate clean every game, but you are certainly aware of what happened in the last game. So if something starts to repeat itself and things become unsafe out there, you have to put the hammer down.
CBCSports.ca: In Game 3 we saw a lot of penalties called in the third period when the Bruins had the game well in hand. As an official, what can you do to stop that from happening?
Marouelli: At that point it's too late. That has to start earlier and it's up to the officials. You need to lay down the law early and then follow up with it and let them know it's not going to be tolerated, whether it's a Stanley Cup Final or not. … I have never seen a playoff where I have seen as much inconsistency as I have this year.
CBCSports.ca: What did you think about Rome's suspension? Is four games enough?
Marouelli: Probably not. I tend to lean on the little more severe side of things. I look at it through an official's eyes. I don't have a vested interest as far as the players go. I wasn't a coach and I wasn't a GM, and therein lies some of our problems. I look at it from an officiating, rule-enforcement point of view. That's what I did for so many years. For me it's all about safety of the players and I think the only way we're going to get them to stop this is to make the suspensions stiffer. There has to be more consequences, because obviously right now they're not getting the message. But I think [Rome's suspension] is a real good start.
CBCSports.ca: If you were making the decision, how many games would you have given Rome?
Marouelli: I would have looked at least at six games minimum. That would have been me, but I say that only having seen the hit on replays. I have seen it three times total. I didn't have the benefit of sitting in the war room like Mike Murphy and the rest of the hockey ops people.
CBCSports.ca: What do you think about the criteria with regards to determining what is a head shot?
Marouelli: I think Brendan Shanahan [the NHL's chief disciplinarian] and his committee are going to have to revisit some of the criteria. Mike Murphy hit the nail on the head when he said [Rome's hit] was a dangerous act, it resulted in a very severe injury to Nathan Horton, and it needs to be dealt with, and they did. Kudos to Mike Murphy for finally stepping up to the plate and saying enough is enough.
CBCSports.ca: What's your view on the north-south criteria the league uses to determine whether or not a hit is illegal?
Marouelli: I would hope that it is not the only criteria that they are using. I know what the fear is — that we're going to take clean body checking out of the game, and they are stating that north-south is part of the criteria for being legal. I think it's dangerous wording because it gives everybody an out that way.
I think north-south should be classed as possibly as dangerous as a blindside hit, and in this case what troubled me was when they said if Horton saw the hit coming, it would have been a legal body check. Well, if you look at that, he checked him to the head and in my opinion he left his feet. He targeted a defenceless and unsuspecting opponent and that's a safety issue. If they don't start to protect the players, whether they are the super stars or the average players, you're not going to have players left anymore to continue to play.
CBCSports.ca: What about the argument that Rome could not pull out of the check in time?
Marouelli: What's driving me nuts is when people say it was a split second hit. Oh my goodness gracious! There was plenty of time for him to pull back and not deliver that check and he chose to do it anyway. The intention was there to deliver the check and when you intend to do that then you should have to suffer the consequences of your actions.
When are we going to wake up and do what's right for our sport and just not tolerate these checks to the head? I don't know what the delay is. What are we waiting for? Something more serious to happen?
Editor's note: This interview has been condensed and edited.