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Daily Dish: Questionable Consequences - Junior Hockey News

Published: Friday, 1 Feb 2013
By: Stephen Heisler  |  Web site: JuniorHockey.com

The North American Hockey League, under the direction of Mark Frankenfeld, has issues in regards to standards and selective enforcement of rules. It appears that the league simply spins the wheel when deciding on the number of games and offender is to be suspended.

When considering Tony Curtale's eight-game suspension was drastically reduced and Justin Quenneville got three games for stepping out on the ice to challenge the Amarillo coaches, one could easily assume that the league is soft on discipline.

Obscene gestures from players and coaches showing up the referees on ESPN's SportsCenter are never going to make a league happy but Wednesday's suspensions of Wenatchee Wild head coach Bliss Littler (5-games) and his assistant Chris Clark (indefinite) appear to be a bit over the top.

Littler got nailed for allegedly knowing and approving of Clark's now-famous blind-man walk beforehand, something he adamantly denies. Littler's history and reputation with USA Hockey far outweighs any impression that could possibly be made from watching a video. If Littler says the display was not premeditated, than that is all I need to hear.

With that said, somebody also needs to question the behavior of the on-ice officials. These guys are supposed to avoid becoming the reason one team or the other wins a game. In Saturday night's game after Wenatchee scored the goal at the 11:31 mark of the third-period, the Wild coaching staff was happy to have tied the game.  Referee Nathaniel Espenes was getting ready to drop the puck at center-ice and instead of facing the timekeeper, he was facing the Wild bench instead. Littler smiled and was immediately whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Kenai River another power-play which they capitalized on two-minutes later. Maybe NAHL coaches should wear ski-masks on the bench if facial expressions are now being considered unsportsmanlike conduct.

After giving the Brown Bears a seven-minute power play, Clark made his entrance onto the ice. It was clear at that point, to everybody in the building and whoever managed to watch the game on fasthockey, that Espenes was calling a very one-sided game. Should Noah Nelson have been nailed as the instigator? Maybe, but there was a lot of yapping going on and the Wild players were getting more than frustrated  with the way the game was being called.

The suspensions are being appealed, that was inevitable. It is my opinion that Espenes' actions also need to be addressed by USA Hockey. Statements that he made to off-ice officials, and his actions on the ice, force me to question his ability to continue to call games. That information has been given to the league as well.

The NAHL is obviously upset that the Wenatchee Wild are taking their show to the British Columbia Hockey League, and the league has a right to feel that way. Wenatchee made a decision that was approved by USA Hockey's Junior Council, to be able to continue providing a free-to-play junior program in the northwestern United States. Simply stated, the BCHL makes more financial sense then the NAHL.

I have to question why Espenes was even assigned to this series. The official is a board member of the Dane County Hockey Officials Association in Madison, Wisconsin. How does an official from Wisconsin get assigned a series in Wenatchee, Washington? I understand that the league wants to develop officials, but one would think that the west coast would have plenty of guys that can do the job, and for a lot less money than the cost of flying out from Wisconsin.

Is Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld dirty enough to send an official from Wisconsin to Wenatchee with bad intentions?  I think that is a more likely theory than the one that NAHL is trying to sell. The league claims that Littler is being untruthful regarding his involvement.

If given the choice of who to believe, Littler or Frankenfeld, Littler takes that one by a country-mile.

JuniorHockey.com is the premier website dedicated to delivering the latest news and developing stories from junior hockey across North America, as well as providing online tools for junior hockey players and prospects. With over 330,000+ views in January, Juniorhockey.com has emerged as the internet's leading source of junior hockey news and information. 

Stephen Heisler resides in Puerto Penasco, Mexico with his wife, Maria, and their two children, Sonia and Tomas. Tune in to his Mexico based Classic Rock Station, GoPenasco Radio.


posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 12:13am
Tyler Harrison says:

The Junior Officials Development program sends guys from many different areas to many different cities. It is not unheard of for them to send a guy from Wisconsin or Michigan to other parts of the country. These guys travel alot this includes west coast guys being in different parts of the country.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 12:25am
Jr Ruiz says:
" That information has been given to the league as well."... Well, good luck with that. There are still some unresolved issued from the debacle with Amarillo at Topeka last Saturday night that "have been sent to the League!" It seems that the "League" has a different agenda of discipline when dealing with certain teams and individuals. I would hope that the Commissioner has a higher regard for the integrity of the "League" than to be involved in any sinister undertakings that would single out any organization or any particular individual. I would think that a man in his position could be held to a higher standard, but with some of the incidents that I have seen recently, I now have my doubts.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 8:04am
Stephen Heisler says:
If this ref had been out to the west coast before, I'd agree with you.

I'd wanted to know more about thus guy and found his home ref association link: http://www.dchoa.org/ This ref is on every committee and on the board. A google search turns up a number of other interesting games he has done as well...but never venturing too far from home.

I just want to know more...I saw way too much crap going on in Saturday's game video to look the other way. I believe that if USA Hockey sees it, they are going to come to the same conclusions as I have.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 8:10am
Drew Miller says:
I don't doubt that the ref was over his head in this series. Whether it was intentional by the NAHL is hard to determine, but it wouldn't shock me. That being said, I do believe that Clark did pre-plan the gimmick. He had sunglasses on him during a night game, he had the goofy bowtie and suit to go along with. Championship teams rise above bad officials, they don't get sucked in and then create a circus. Clark embarrassed the Wild and made a joke out of the game on national media. I could care less how the NAHL looks and I am sure they have no love for the Wild. But Clark should be suspended and Littler and the Wild should bear some consequence for allowing it to happen.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 8:32am
Stephen Heisler says:
Clark as wore the "goofy bowtie" to saturday homes games for two years. Look at fasthockey clips to verify. The glasses belonged to the trainer, not to Clark. The trainer is seen handing clark the glasses on the video. Everybody wants to assume it was premeditated and it was not.

Bliss Littler is not a liar. He told me that he was not aware of Clark's stunt ahead of time. That's all I need to hear. Anybody that questions that position is calling him a liar.

I think if the question was asked to Skip Prince, Gino Gasparini, Marc Boxer, Dave Tyler, Dean Blais or anyone that has worked or interacted with Bliss in the last 25 years, they would agree with my position.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 8:46am
Drew Miller says:
I didn't say Littler was a liar or knew about it. I am saying that Clark pre-planned this stunt. What also remains to be seen is how costly this little clown act really becomes. This episode isn't being treated as funny north of the border as it is down here. The Wild still need BCHL and Hockey Canada approval to join the league. It isn't too smart to give opponents of having American teams competing in a Canadian league a reason to deny them admission. IF that happens this little stunt could end up costing Wenatchee the entire franchise.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 8:53am
Shelley Gingrich says:
I was at that game. It was, hands-down, the worst officiating I have ever seen. Was Clarky wrong? Of course. Was there a valid reason for his frustration? Definitely. Our coaches care about our players. Somebody had to do something. Indefinite suspension is the dumbest move yet in a league known to have issues.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 9:05am
Drew Miller says:
I have season tickets as well. And, while you can justify being angry at the refs, it doesn't justify turning the game into a sideshow. Clark was acting like he was Walt the Wolf in some intermission gag. If something needed to be done then Stewart should be dealing with it at the league level. If they won't address it, take it to USAHockey. Good luck getting anyone to listen now.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 10:14am
Alan Gallentine says:

I was one of those three thousand plus fans in attendance on Saturday, January 26, 2013. The Referring was extremely poor to say the least. Not just in my opinion or the other 3,377 hockey fans in attendance, but also in the Coaches opinions evidently. Of course during the course of a normal hockey game the refís will miss a call (or two) and they canít see everything thatís for sure. But when you have Wild players laying the on ice in pain from a cheap shot after whistle and the play is over, a player holding a Wild player with an arm around the a Wild players waist/body to prevent them from scoring and then having both players going to the penalty box and the entire crowd is complaining because of all the cheap shots the Kenai players were getting away with, there must be something wrong! After this game I definitely see a drastic need for the use of instant replay to aid the referring in making better calls. Otherwise Iíd highly recommend the Refís get eye exams as soon as possible. It must be pretty bad when two Coaches are ejected from the game. The highlight of the game for us fans was watching Assistant Coach Clark. He downed a pair of dark glasses and used a hockey stick as a white cane, of course trying to find his way across the ice to the exit door. Both Coach Bliss Littler and Coach Clark received a standing ovation for getting themselves ejected and agreeing with all the 3,377 Wild fans that the REFERRING SUCKED!
The Refís in last nightís game were
Referee: Nathaniel Espenes
Linesman 1: Anthony Guzzo
Linesman 2: Stan Szczurek

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 11:31am
Christian Poulsen says:
Who or what "arm" of the Leagues review games and determine suspensions?

Just asking, because I am just "dead"brainstorming (dreaming) that there is probably a better way

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 11:47am
Jordan Solomon says:
One: the only time the referee faces the scorers bench when dropping the puck is the opening drop of the game. Every other drop by the referee is conducted with his back to the scorers bench (therefore facing the teams benches) unless the scorers box is on the same side of the ice as the teams benches. Then obviously every drop would be conducted facing the scorers box and the team benches.

Two: the officials in junior hockey are under direction of the USA Hockey Officiating DEVELOPMENT Program. This means the officials are DEVELOPING just like the players. They are NOT PROFFESIONAL officials. They are working toward that goal of becoming professional/NHL officials. Mistakes will happen.

Three: regardless of any officials penalty standard (calls made or not made) this act is an absolute black eye on this great sport of hockey that we all love. This was completely premeditated. Look at the FACTS. The assistant coach had sunglasses ON HIM, and gave his owner a hug after the act. There is no respect given to anyone in the ice.

Get your facts straight before you go on a page long rant about officiating which is clearly not your specialty.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 12:48pm
Jr Ruiz says:
Really?...previous comment not worth repeating.

OK Rowdy Bunch, let's hear it..."HEY REF, YOU SUCK"!


posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 12:54pm
Christian Poulsen says:
Jr..."Word Up"

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 12:54pm
Dave Shoults says:
After remembering your name Mr. Solomon from a game you did in Wenatchee, I will agree with you on point #2.....Officials at your level make PLENTY of mistakes. I do also credit you for backing you fellow officials. No doubtedly will you accuse me of the same one-sided view after my next opinion, but I must say you are not looking at the facts on whether it was pre-meditated or not. Everything stated above is 100% accurate. I was there, I have seen the video, I know the coaches personally. Clarkie is extremely passionate about hockey. It is not his personality to draw attention to himself. It was a very frustrating night. SOOLLLLOOOMOOOOOOONNNNNNNN!!!!!

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 1:24pm
Jordan Solomon says:
Well now that we all know who i am... Thank you for doing your research. Quite frankly this isn't about me NOR the officials. Those were his actions not ours. I personally do not have a problem with "Clarkie" and would say we have a decent official-coach relationship from that standpoint. This is about a writer who has no clue of what he's talking about, presenting misleading and inaccurate information as simple as which side the official faces when taking a faceoff (we did the right thing in this instance). And thanks for your comments ill be sure to work on my PLENTY of mistakes. Yeah I will be the first to admit it I have and always will make mistakes. I'm not perfect but I like to think we have a pretty good staff. Better yet I know we have a good staff. Maybe your stance will change after you deal with the BCHL.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 2:18pm
Jr Ruiz says:
Jordan you do make some valid points, but I just HAD to post the chant...

I'll see you on your next visit to Topeka...


posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 2:37pm
robert hutch says:
After dealing with CHL refs for several years I have to say the reffing in the NAHL that I have seen is WAY better than the CHL ,at least up to the time Corpus left the CHL. Having said that I have seen when refs lose control of the game or seeming picks on one team or a coach.I don't think officials go into games to stick it to a team.I bet this guy is just not the type to have his authority questioned or kinda thinned skinned.Whatever the personality of the ref teams just have to adjust to it.And that has to come from the coaches.If they lose their cool then they are adding to the problem.Hey it was a 2-1 game and Wenatchhee is the better team and probably could had found a a way to win the game.Although personally I find it amusing when coaches go off like this.Indefinite is too severe as is 5 games IMO.Btw Solomon I remember you from our first two seasons and let me say you did a good job.98% of the refs do.But there is always that 2% and it sounds like Wenatchee got one of them.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 3:14pm
Jordan Solomon says:
Jr: well played! My feelings aren't hurt and hopefully that time will be soon I need to get back to Topeka!

Hutch: I would first like to say I appreciate the kind words. It does mean something when you haven't been to a building in a year or so and someone still has something nice to say.

I am not saying that these officials were perfect or that they didn't mess up as I haven't seen the game tape. Regardless of what happened or was called/not called, there is no reason for this type of behavior. What I really want to emphasize is that the writer of this article is clearly misguided in his writing including the comments about the officiating. For example that the league and officials are out to get Wenatchee because they are leaving. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Not only that but we aren't good enough to say we're going to "get a team". Don't believe me ask our sups. We don't do that. Why? We love the game too much. We do the job with the absolute least amount of reward and get yelled at relentlessly quite often; we take that abuse because of how much we love the game and want to be a part of it in any capacity.

My point is we are all (or atleast most) trying to move on to the next level
Of hockey just like the players are. What would sticking it to a team get us? Simple: FIRED! So everyone jut needs to stop (not saying it was you jr or hutch, just in general) with the "officials are out to get Wenatchee" stuff. And the writer of this article needs to do a little research concerning officials and our protocol regarding game management and practices. Oh and for what it's worth the USA Hockey Officiating Development Program spends this large amount if money to fly officials in because this program works. Several officials have gone on from this program to work in the NHL, two of which include Lemelin and Pancich the past two years. Additionally this program has about a 90% success ratio of movin officials into minor professional hockey or NCAA D-1.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 3:33pm
Stephen Heisler says:
Many of the 3,000+ fans in attendance witnessed a number of players escorting the apple harvest queens onto the ice before Saturday's game. Some of those players were wearing...black sun glasses.

The trainer handed Clark the same glasses a player gave the trainer to hold onto.

Premeditated? Bliss said it was not... That's all I needed to hear.

I trust his word 1,000 times more whatever assumptions you make from the outside looking in.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 4:10pm
Jordan Solomon says:
Ok well then you must be right. I won't be commenting on this anymore. Have a good day.

posted Feb. 1st, 2013 - 8:39pm
David Dell says:
on a bit of a side note, if the single ref officiating is so bad (Lord knows weve had some stinkers of a game in Port Huron) why hasnt the NAHL instituted two referees?

NCAA has two. if theyre not professional (as in unpaid) it surely wouldnt add anything to the cost of a game...

just curious

posted Feb. 2nd, 2013 - 10:14am
John Meissner says:
Officials are paid at all levels.

posted Feb. 2nd, 2013 - 1:50pm
Drew Miller says:
"Many of the 3,000+ fans in attendance witnessed a number of players escorting the apple harvest queens onto the ice before Saturday's game. Some of those players were wearing...black sun glasses.

The trainer handed Clark the same glasses a player gave the trainer to hold onto"

It would make sense for the Wild to publish a statement as to what happened, their actions in regard to Clark and efforts they are taking to address this issue with the league and USAHockey. Silence implies complicity or support of Clark's actions. Clark's apology is not a sufficient statement by the team on its position and actions.

posted Feb. 2nd, 2013 - 5:05pm
Mike Cline says:
I will have to say there are some questionable calls we as fans see Refs in the NAHL call. I will use this example:

A player from Topeka punches a player from Amarillo behind the play, the Ref sees nothing. The Amarillo player then gets up skates over to the Topeka bench and reaches into the Roadrunners bench area trying to get to the player that punched him, the Ref and a Linesman, standing at the scorers table and the other Linesman standing between the two benches watched this event unfold. They decided to give a 5 minute penalty and a game ejection to the Roadrunners. Remember the Ref saw nothing of the punch. The Amarillo player got absolutely nothing. No penalty at all and played the rest of the game. Remember all three on-ice officials watched him skate over to the bench and start a big altercation. Now I'm not an expert by any stretch, and I have seen some really bad calls but this one is absolutely the worst call I have seen in the entire time I have been watching hockey. I get the 5 minutes and game ejection but to allow a player to skate from the goal line to the oppositions bench without ANY call at all is well....I'm at a loss for words on this one.

I will say I realize the Refs are learning but for them to make these kind of calls hurts the game. The fans have a very hard time trying to figure it out when the refs call it one way. If they are going to call it tight, then for Christs sake call it tight for BOTH teams. If they are going to let one team play then let BOTH teams play. Some of the Refs in the NAHL seem to have a problem with this concept.

posted Feb. 2nd, 2013 - 5:32pm
John Meissner says:
....then for Christs sake....

When did this turn into a religious experience?

posted Feb. 2nd, 2013 - 5:48pm
Stephen Heisler says:
John, When was the last time you watched hockey in Canada? That is as close to heaven as it gets for a lot of folks.

posted Feb. 2nd, 2013 - 7:01pm
John Meissner says:
I haven't seen a game in Canada since 2002.

I'm missing out on a lot, aren't I?

posted Feb. 4th, 2013 - 6:41pm
Frank says:
I attended the game on Jan.26, between the Wenatchee Wild and Kenai Brown Bears. I have been a hockey fan for over fifty (50) years. I have never witnessed a more poorly called hockey game in my life. From the outset the Referee (Espenes) lost control of the game and it continued right to the last minute.
My seat, for the past five years, is ten rows behind the Wild bench and I continually watch what occurs on the bench...players and coaches. To claim Clark's antic was planned is outrageous. What Clark did was a "spur of the moment" decision. I was there!! Was it good taste? No, but some one had to bring the poor officiating to some one's attention.
I will conclude by saying for the past four plus years the referee teams have generally been good to very good until this debacle on Jan. 26.

posted Feb. 4th, 2013 - 6:59pm
robert hutch says:
Now if the NAHL sends this guy to the West again then the NAHL ,or whoever assigns refs, would not pass the smell test.Just sayin.

posted Feb. 4th, 2013 - 7:41pm
Jr Ruiz says:
The "League" says that the NAHL is a developmental league for the officials as well as the players. Well, it seems to me that not too many players that are not developing or producing for a particular team don't seem to be around for any length of time. How long does it take for the league to evaluate the officials to see if they are "developing" or not? How many game have to get out of hand, how players have to get hurt, how many bad calls that determine the out come of crucial games does it take before one of these "developing officials" are "sent down"? There has to be a point when enough is enough, just when is that point?

Just a thought...


posted Feb. 4th, 2013 - 9:48pm
John Dugger says:
Lets look at this from a hockey consumers standpoint... I pay fifteen hundred bucks a year for my premium seats, I drink and eat while I am there and I dont feel Im getting my moneys worth. I am not talking about the level of hockey being played in the NAHL. I am talking about the officiating. Solomon, I have seen you ref. I am not impressed. I help pay your salary and that entitles me to say so. People pay good money, the kids work their butts off, we all deserve decent officiating. I want a better product for my money.

posted Feb. 5th, 2013 - 9:04am
robert hutch says:
As one who did not hesitate to unload on CHL refs I must say in 2 1/2 years in the NAHL I have been unhappy with a ref one time.The same ref has been back many times since with no problems.I guess we get better officiating in the South but I have to say the NAHL guys a a group are MUCH better than their CHL counterparts were.I have noticed one thing.When a ref supervisor is in the arena the refs tend to be whistle happy and do worse than they normally would.At any rate I have no problem with what I have seen from officials so far who have worked in Corpus Christi.

posted Feb. 5th, 2013 - 9:51am
Christian Poulsen says:
I think officials are good skaters

posted Feb. 5th, 2013 - 3:08pm
Frank says:
Some thing I forgot to mention in my previous comment, if my memory serves me, in a three game series the Referee would serve game one. Then would change with the Linesman #1, for game two and so on with the Linesman #2, for the third game. WHY was Espenes the Referee for ALL three games in Wenatchee during the Wild vs Brown Bears series. Was that a plan?

posted Feb. 5th, 2013 - 3:37pm
Keith Howard says:
Espenes was a linesman on Friday night, Szczurek was referee. The problems began on Thursday night when a Wild player got a butt end shot to the groin just behind the play. Espenes missed it. The player down n obvious pain. At the next whistle Espenes conferred with the linesman who saw the shot. Apparently Espenes did not think that it warranted a major so no penalty was called. To me a groin shot like that shows clear intent to injure, but then again I am not a referee. I think this, along with other actions, led the coaches to be so concerned about the safety of their players with Espenes as referee. With that said Clark's actions on Saturday were embarrassing.

posted Feb. 5th, 2013 - 3:38pm
Randy Russon says:

You need to post under a full name.

Randy Russon

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