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Post-game chats between coaches, ECHL's top cops, is Kelly Cup Finals ritual

Doyle Woody

CINCINNATI -- Monday morning, with Game 3 of the ECHL's Kelly Cup Finals looming at Sullivan Arena, four guys congregated within feet of one another at Rob Murray's tiny office at Sullivan Arena to trade opinions and concerns about officiating, and swap hockey stories.

Murray, the Alaska Aces coach, sat in the only chair in his office. Aces assistant coach Louis Mass leaned back in the chair in his cubbyhole of an "office" adjacent to Murray's door-frame. Bordering the door frame were Joe Ernst and Mike Pearce.

Ernst is the ECHL's vice president of hockey operations, a former league referee with more than 1,000 games of experience on that circuit and an ECHL Hall of Famer who oversees league officials. He's also the league's top cop -- he hands out fines and suspensions. Pearce is one of the league's supervisors of officials.

That scene plays out most mornings of the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals. Ernst and Pearce supervised officials in three games between the Aces and Cincinnati Cyclones and then touched base, separately, with Murray and Cyclones coach Ben Simon and assistant coach Matt Macdonald.

To hear Murray, Ernst and Simon tell it, the meetings are collegial and designed, Ernst said, "just to make sure everything is good, and to go over anything goofy or different that might have happened'' in the previous game.

"Both (Murray and Simon) are good guys, both get it, so that makes it easy,'' Ernst said. "Both of these guys have (coached) at the American League level and played in the NHL, so they understand.

"We're all sort of friends, but we also understand it's a working relationship.''

Simon said Ernst and his supervisors generally back the officials they oversee, but are open to criticism. Mostly, the Cyclones coach said, there's a lot of shooting the breeze between the league officials and coaches.

"You name it,'' Simon said of the topics covered. "The game in general -- what they thought, what we thought. We talk officiating, and they support their guys, but they'll agree to disagree, or they'll say they screwed up.

"It's not bad blood. Everybody's entitled to their opinion -- right, wrong or indifferent. We leave it at the rink. It's not personal.''

Ernst, who saw 89 ECHL regular-season games live this season and has been at about one-third that many in the postseason, said no one is perfect.

"We try to get it right,'' he said. "Are we wrong sometimes? Sure. It's the human element.''

One instance in which he thought an officiating crew got a pivotal call correct came in Game 2, when Cincinnati led 2-1 midway through the third period and Cyclones forward Joe Basaraba scored, though he appeared to use an illegal kicking motion with his leg. Basaraba's stick blade was near his skate, and in real time it was difficult to tell whether Basaraba got stick, leg or skate, or some combination of those, on the puck to get it past Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman.

Referees Nic Leduc and Frederic Leblanc and linesmen Travis Jackson and Steve Glines gathered on the ice after the play and it was ruled no goal.

"They did the right thing, huddling and gathering information,'' Ernst said.

Murray said his game-day conversations with the league officials only become serious when he has a significant issue with a call, or a non-call. Otherwise, it's a bunch of hockey guys talking hockey.

"We're talking about, 'Where'd you go to watch the (NHL) game last night?' ''Murray said. "We're swapping stories about guys we each know through the game.

"We might talk about a situation or play. We just talk hockey, for the most part. We're not giving them the business and they're not giving us the business.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog and follow his live tweets from every Kelly Cup Finals game @sportsadn.

2014 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals

Alaska Aces vs. Cincinnati Cyclones

Best of 7

Aces lead 2-1

Game 4, Friday, at Cincinnati, 3:35 p.m. ADT

Radio: Live, AM-550 and FM-103.7

TV: Live, GCI Channel 1

 


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com