Sheffield Steeler '˜could have suffered broken neck in hit from behind'
So where did you stand on the Colton Fretter incident, last Sunday?
Those who were there all saw it, those who weren’t will have via social media as it has had more views than an episode of Coronation Street.
Taken in isolation, Fretter’s explosion of anger was out of order and you’d think he was destined for the high jump from the league disciplinary bosses.
This is one incident, however, that should not be taken in isolation with mitigation stacked in favour of Fretter.
This was the fifth time this season that Fretter had been hit from behind. The cheapest penalty in hockey. On the four other occasions the culprit has had his original penalty upgraded by the Department of Player Safety after a request by the club. Imagine the frustration as a player when you aren’t being protected out there on the ice.
Then on Sunday it happens again, by the same player who has already done this to you twice this season already.
You look up to find that again no action has been taken by the match night officials: wouldn’t you be angry? Those hits from behind, just four feet from the boards, are potential career enders, neck-breakers - and trust me, no one in the Elite League is being paid enough money to risk spending the rest of their days in a wheelchair. So the mist comes down and he charges towards Spiro Goulakos fortunately releasing his stick well before making contact with the Giants player.
Now does Fretter regret his retaliation? I’m sure he does, but we can’t sit here having never been in the situation he found himself in and judge the bloke. I suggest the majority would have bitten long before the fifth hit from behind. Colton will get suspended and no one can argue against that. However, if the original incident had been called then the retaliation penalties would never happen.
Now there are many people to blame from this and it starts at the top of the sport. Investment in officials is minute compared to investment in players over the past 10 years.
Governing bodies play at it. The decision to go from four officials to three a couple of seasons ago was a scandalous one. Every other half decent league in the world uses a four man system; so should we.
Players in this professional age are bigger, faster and stronger and one referee, however good, can’t keep up with the pace of the game. The sport owes it to the players first and the existing officials second to put in place the right structure that allows for a platform for the officiating to get better.
It’s not solely the fault of the officials. I do however think that many are simply not fit for purpose and that the game has passed them by. If we’d have stuck with the four man system we would have by now brought a couple of younger referees and linesmen through.
While the league has progressed, investment in officiating has stood still. That has to stop and stop now. Invest in this area now or all the hard work, time and massive investment clubs like ours have made in the last 10 years will be flushed away.
It’s the product that’s suffering and in doing so we are putting our players, our employees, our talent at risk and player safety should at all times come first. Right now, it’s a case of empty words.
So, finally, what do we make of Colton Fretter, one of the most decent and professional person you could wish to meet? Intelligent, he recently completed his MBA Masters Degree at the University of Sheffield. Articulate and if you look at his career statistics not a dirty player. To him, I say this:
1: God, Frets, I wish you hadn’t done it.
2: I can 100 per cent see why you did do it.
3: Because it’s someone respected like you, I actually hope that at long last something good comes from this situation and officiating receives the long-term investment it has needed for a decade.
Time for common sense.