Originally published by the New York Post, from writer Steve Soldwedel, in 2008:
Last night in Newark, at the beginning of the second period of the game between the Devils and the Sharks, one of the linesmen, Thor Nelson, lost his edge, tumbled to the ice and slid into the boards. As a result, he sat out the period and play resumed with two refs and only one linesman.
I expected one of the refs to take up Nelson’s duties, going back to the old one-ref system, but neither orange-banded zebra did. With only one linesman shouldering the duty of covering the both bluelines, it created the opportunity for some missed calls. But that’s not even my main concern.
When Nelson took his spill, some fans cheered. The cheering lasted a good thirty seconds until they realized he wasn’t getting back up.
I always thought hockey fans understood that linesmen are likely the toughest officials in any sport, and that respect for the jobs they do was a given. They throw themselves between two fighters, putting themselves in the position to be hit by an errant punch. They wear minimal padding and are always in a position to be hit by either puck or player.
Like I said, I thought respect for these guys was a given. Apparently, at least in Newark, that isn’t the case. I can see, if one of the refs took a tumble, a derisive cheer rising up through the crowd. Refs invite the rancor of fans by nature; they make calls that will upset one or both sets of fans and when a ref gets his comeuppance of sorts, fans delight in it. But a linesman? Aside from calling offsides on a promising rush for one’s team, what could they do to provoke the ire of fans?
This is just a small homage to linesmen and the hard work they do. Thor Nelson came back out in the third period and finished the game, a testament to the toughness needed to do his job. It was a display of bad sportsmanship and hockey ignorance by the so-called fans that cheered Nelson’s downfall, but bad sportsmanship among fans is nothing new in the world of sport.
For all the kudos given out to the class and grace of hockey players, it would be great if their fans could emulate those behaviors and pay tribute to the people who help make the game a reality.
Thanks for your support, Steve.