As an NHL referee for 30 years, Kerry Fraser has seen a lot of stuff.
He’s heard stuff too.
Retiring in 2010, the 66-year-old has a ton of great stories from his career that he recently shared with the Players’ Tribune.
The best ones concern former Calgary Flames winger Theo Fleury.
Fleury picked up 1840 penalty minutes in his 1084-game NHL career with the Flames, Avalanche, Rangers, and Blackhawks, so it should come as no surprise that he and Fraser exchanged words over the years.
Just how strong the words were might surprise you though.
It got heated during a playoff series in 1996 when Fleury’s Flames were playing the Blackhawks.
Fraser says Fleury challenged him to fight in the parking lot:
Theo skates over to me and says, “You little shitbag asshole. Come outside to the parking lot after the game. I’ll kill you.”
Fair enough. A little extreme, but I’ve heard worse. It was the playoffs.
“He threw his helmet off like he was about to drop the gloves, and it hit my right skate” Fraser said, adding that he felt like hitting the Flames forward.
Fraser regained his composure and kicked Fleury out of the game instead.
But more powerful than that story was one that involved Fleury years later while with the New York Rangers.
Fleury had returned from the NHL’s rehab program, following problems with alcohol and drugs. As we found out years later, many of those issues stemmed from sexual abuse from his hockey coach as a junior.
“The direct result of my being abused was that I became a fucking raging, alcoholic lunatic,” Fleury said in his autobiography published in 2009.
So when a player on another team tried to get under his skin by targeting his drug history, it cut deep.
Fraser says Fleury came up to him, pleading for him to “do something.”
“Theo came up to me with tears in his eyes,” Fraser said.
The referee believed Fleury, but didn’t actually hear the opponent – St Louis Blues tough guy Tyson Nash – say it for himself.
Instead of making an educated guess and calling a penalty, Fraser proposed getting Nash to apologize.
Fraser says he visited the visiting team’s coaches room, occupied by Joel Quenneville at the time, and told him what was said.
Before the start of the second period, Nash and Fleury met on the ice and the Blues forward gave a “terrific apology.”
Fraser says Nash, now a television analyst on Arizona Coyotes broadcasts, told him years later that the moment changed his life.