We've all seen the clip. We've all heard the explanation. We've all formed an opinion. For me, I formed an opinion as a Flames fan, but then I thought "what about the official?" I'm a sports official, what about looking at it from that end and that's what this column is about.
First off, here's my take on the situation that occurred Wednesday night in Calgary. Again, this is MY opinion, you don't have to agree, but it's mine. I don't think Dennis Wideman intentionally tried to hit/hurt Don Hendersdon. I think Wideman was rattled from the hit he received, was skating off the ice to the bench and was looking to hit someone from Nashville. What he got instead was linesman Don Henderson and did he ever get him. I don't think Wideman was seeking out Henderson because there was no call on he hit he received (everyone knows the linesman doesn't make that call anyway). I honestly think Wideman was partially concussed as he skated towards Henderson and the bench. If you saw the replays of Wideman on the bench he clearly looked out of it. Who cross checks an official, skates past him and then sits down for a squirt of water? No one in their right mind, that's who. Wideman even apologized to Henderson a few minutes later. If it was your intention to run down Henderson, why apologize? Also, this is 2016. There's 200 million different camera angles at a game and people with their cell phones. Did Wideman really intentionally run down Don Henderson with, in effect, the whole world watching? None of this makes any sense at all and that's why I think Wideman wasn't in the right frame of mind.
I also don't buy Wideman's "I was kneeling over and saw him at the last second" nonsense. The replay clearly shows Wideman skating with his head up as he approached Henderson and the Calgary bench. The key to this is we can't see Wideman's eyes. Were they looking down? Up? Were they closed? Only Dennis Wideman knows. Wideman then raises his hands and stick and delivers the blow that sent Don Henderson to the ice. If you're trying to avoid a player/official on the ice that's not how you do it. If he bumped Henderson and knocked him down, we're not having this discussion, but that's not how it happened.
Intent will be impossible to prove here because only Dennis Wideman knows what was going through his head at that moment.....or does he? There's no way the league can 100% claim Dennis Wideman intended to injure Don Henderson. They can't get into Wideman's head and the players rep's would fight that until the bitter end. And the other thing to add to this is Wideman has no prior history of acting like this at all. Wideman, in 9 years in the NHL, has been in 8 fights. One of them occurring this season after Ryan Kessler shot a puck into the Calgary net after the horn sounded to end the game. The most penalty minutes he's ever had was back in 2005 when he had 83, which isn't a ton. He's only had 30 PIM in 48 games this season and he's never had a run in with an official. The moral of the story here: Dennis Wideman isn't a goon.
I'm defending him here, sort of, and I'm his biggest detractor. I can't stand him. I think he's overpaid, overused and doesn't bring much to the table. He wears the "A" at times and he gets ice time with the top power play unit. He doesn't man the blue line well and he rarely hits the net with that wicked slap shot we hear so much about. I've been clamoring for him to be a healthy scratch for weeks so Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland could get some regular time on the ice because they've earned it. I'm that guy and I'M PARTIALLY DEFENDING HIM. The internet has turned this into a feeding frenzy and I think Wideman is getting unfairly roasted at times. Does he deserve to be suspended? Absolutely. Does he deserve to be suspended for the rest of the season or for life? No. Let's get real. What happened was horrible. Wideman deserves to be punished by the league, but I think anything outside of the 10-20 range is ludicrous. Look at everything that lead up to the incident, what happened after the incident and the player's history and it doesn't add up.
Who is Don Henderson? Don Henderson is 48 years old and was born in Calgary on September 23, 1968. He's been an NHLOA member since 1994 and worked his first game on March 11, 1995. He's since worked 1,249 regular season games and 11 playoff games. He wears the #91 and will now forever be remembered as the guy that was destroyed by Dennis Wideman. Thankfully, it appears Henderson will be ok. Reports say he spent the night at the hospital and was complaining of neck pain and went through the league's concussion protocol. He was released from the hospital and there's no word on when he will be back on the ice.
I've given you my take on what I thought happened as a fan and a little background on Don Henderson. Now here's my take as someone who is an official. I have been a football official for 10 years at the high school level and a lacrosse official at the high school level for 9 years. I do not say this to make myself out to be something I'm not. I'm not a professional and I referee because I enjoy it. I'm not comparing myself to Henderson or any other professional officials who take to the field/court/ice and officiate under immense pressure and scrutiny. But, I will always have an official's back and this is where I stop being a Flames fan and become a fan of my fellow zebra's. We don't always get the call right. We might miss a hold or let a slash go. We're human. But with that said, we are the third team out there. We stand between the two teams that are playing and officiate the game as fairly as possible and our only intention is to adjudicate the rules to the best of our ability and look out for player safety. We are never to be the star of the show. Officials are best seen, not heard. It's, at times, a thankless job that everyone can do better than us. Fans can throw as many insults as they want and players and coaches can do the same, within reason, but the one thing you can NEVER do is place your hands on an official. That's where I stop supporting the player and I put on my referee hat. That's the ultimate no-no. Whether it be a simple grab of the arm or what happened between Wideman and Henderson, contact with an official is off limits. The league needs to make an example out of Wideman and show support for it's officials. Whether there was intent or not, Wideman violently contacted an NHL linesman and now he must pay the price. There's no room in sports for things like that to happen. Again, I don't think Wideman was all there when he contacted Henderson, but he still made contact with an official and the rule book states that intentional or not, it's a punishable offense. I'm fortunate enough to have never had a coach or player place their hands on me. Yes, there's been some wonderfully, colorful insults hurled my way, but I've never had what happened to Henderson happen to me on the lacrosse or football field.
Wideman has been suspended indefinitely until the league sorts this bizarre mess out. Reports are the league will meet with both player and official after the All Star Break is over and then figure out a course of action. I'll be watching this closely as a Flames fan and as an official. The odd twist in this whole thing is both sides of me want the same end result, but for different reasons. Hopefully the NHL gets this right and shelves Wideman to let the league and it's officials know that acts like this won't be tolerated. I don't think Dennis Wideman is a bad person or dirty player. I think he got his head rocked and made a bad decision and as unfortunate as that decision was, he now needs to pay the price for it. We all put the stripes on and pick up a whistle for one reason or another, but it certainly isn't to end up in the hospital after an athlete sends us there.