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FRASER, UNDER FIRE, STANDS TALL ON CONTROVERSIAL OT PENALTY CALL PLAYOFF RESUMES TONIGHT WITH HABS HOLDING 2-1 LEAD

He is, quite likely, the smallest man in hockey, but National Hockey League referee Kerry Fraser didn't need any help making his points.

He stood tall and argued them well Saturday, then prepared for the inevitable debate.

"We (referees) can't stay in the dressing room," Fraser said after his controversial call -- a boarding penalty on Calgary's Mark Hunter in the closing minutes of a second overtime period -- produced a power-play opportunity that led to Montreal's game-winning goal Friday night. "We have to get out there and call the game."

Ryan Walter's goal gave the Canadiens a two games-to-one lead in this best-of-seven Stanley Cup final series. Should the Canadiens win again here tonight (7:05, Ch. 5, 710 AM), they would take a 3-1 lead back to Calgary and it's likely Fraser's call will be regarded as the turning point of the playoffs.

For a referee to be in such a position is not usually in the referee's, the league's or even the game's best interest, but Fraser, an aggressive referee, would not back away from either his decision or his role in the game.

He emphatically defended both.

"If that's something that's wanted, let us know, we'll stay in the dressing rooms," he said in response to implied criticism. "Obvious infractions will be called, the scoring opportunities taken away (by a penalty) will be called and a play like that, where the officiating department wants it called, it will be called.

"It was a hit from behind and it's going to be called."

Hunter hit Canadiens forward Shayne Corson from behind at the 16:08 mark of the second overtime period.

Calgary officially killed the penalty, but before Hunter could rejoin the play, Walter beat Calgary goaltender Mike Vernon off a setup from Stephane Richer and the Canadiens went home winners.

That the penalty was away from the play and did not interfere with an obvious scoring chance violates a long-standing, albeit unwritten rule in hockey -- let the players decide the outcome.

"The assessment of it, the understanding of it is that any time a player is hit from behind, it's felt that he is defenseless and therefore he (the offending player) has to be penalized," Fraser said.

"We don't want to wait until somebody breaks his neck before we start to take a harder stand on hitting from behind.

"In a situation like that, you want the players to decide the outcome, certainly. The objective is to let them decide it but we can't stay in the dressing room.

"It has been called all year very stringently."

That may not be universally true -- take a look at the hit that separated Buffalo Sabres center Christian Ruuttu's shoulder during the playoff series with Boston -- but this season, the league issued a directive to enforce the penalties involving hitting from behind.

Fraser acknowledged there have been other similar plays in the playoffs that have caused injuries and no penalties were called, but he said he cannot comment on things he wasn't involved in.

Asked if he had a problem as a referee being told to enforce a particular rule and not a particular other rule, Fraser said he had no problem enforcing this rule.

"There are quadriplegics sitting in chairs because of accidents that occurred where they were run into the boards from behind.

"We don't want to see players hurt and injured. That's the theory of that policy and procedure. You react to it. When you see it happen, you don't think about it, you react to it.

"It goes back to a philosophy of you don't call anything in overtime. It's the old school thinking that you let the players decide the game. Nobody will talk about the missed scoring opportunities. They'll talk about a call that went on two periods after regulation. But again you have to react to the play. You're there for a purpose. The officiating department sets down the guidelines and we enforce them."

Several players from Calgary were said to have objected to Fraser's call.

In a move to minimize the damage to his team's mental state, Flames coach Terry Crisp canceled practice Saturday and had his players leave the hotel ballroom immediately after the Stanley Cup luncheon.

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