If revenge truly is a dish best served cold, there can be no better table setting than an NHL rink.
Referee Stéphane Auger employed that venue to exact retribution, or at least that's how the Vancouver Canucks' Alex Burrows told it. Burrows made his stunning accusation on Jan. 11 following a 3--2 Canucks loss to the Predators at General Motors Place, during which the mouthy, pot-stirring right wing wore a groove in the ice in front of the penalty box during the third period. First Auger whistled Burrows for a dubious diving infraction, then nabbed him for an interference penalty, a phantom call. Finally, with four seconds remaining Burrows was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and handed a misconduct.
Afterward, Burrows told reporters that the whole incident was a case of "gotcha." He based his conclusion on a conversation, in French, that occurred before the game. Burrows said Auger told him payback was coming for Burrows's having embarrassed the ref in the Dec. 8 game in Nashville, when Burrows embellished an injury after a hit by Jerred Smithson, conning the ref into calling a charging major and game misconduct on the Predators grinder. After an apparent warp-speed trip to Lourdes, Burrows returned without missing a shift.
Like a cop working a crime scene, NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell heard both sides. Burrows was fined the maximum $2,500 for impugning an official, and Auger walked. Move on, people, nothing to see. Rather than offering a glimpse into the complex relationship between athletes and on-ice adjudicators, the NHL buried the situation like toxic waste. In his telephone interview with Campbell, Auger (who has not commented publicly) was adamant he had made no threat. Campbell told SI that Auger's idea to approach Burrows probably originated with a league official in hopes that Auger would establish "a better rapport" with players.
That explains why the pregame chinwag was not deemed a smoking gun. The interference penalty? Well, let the record show that Auger, a 10-year NHL veteran, hasn't worked a playoff game since April 2004. Sometimes ineptitude must stand as the best defense.
ANDY CLARK/REUTERS (BURROWS)
DIVE DRAMA Though Burrows (above) thought Auger had it in for him, the official was absolved.
TODD KOROL/REUTERS (AUGER)
[See caption above]