Aylward: Did Nobes' outburst cross line? Numbers show Laurier has got a fair share in games at Lakehead

“Flat burglary as ever was committed.”
Shakespeare: Much Ado about Nothing, Act IV, Sc. II
Perhaps this was the feeling of Laurier Golden Hawks coach Kelly Nobes this past Friday night after his No. 9 Hawks lost 10-4 at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Nobes was assessed a gross misconduct after the game as he was very unhappy with the officiating that night.

Here is an excerpt from a TBNewswatch article on what transpired after the game:
"Nobes, who could face a league-mandated suspension after stalking referee Andrew Brewer around the Fort William Gardens ice, seeking to give him a piece of his mind following the lopsided contest, said he’s sick and tired of getting a raw deal from the officiating in Thunder Bay.

" 'It’s unfortunate that the official absolutely discredits our league with that type of officiating,' said Nobes, reiterating later he wanted his comments published.

" 'The thing that I really struggle with is the double standard that he sets. On the ice, Lakehead is allowed to do one thing, Laurier is allowed to do another. And the penalties are called that way.'

Nobes wasn’t debating whether the calls against his team were right, rather that the Thunderwolves committed many of the same offences and skated away scott-free.

That doesn’t happen in southern Ontario, he said, angry that Brewer didn’t speak to him or his players about any of the calls he made, but in turn had no problem discussing other calls with Thunderwolves players and coaches.

At one point in the second period the Hawks were handed seven straight penalties, including three minors on one play midway through the stanza.

“I’m not saying they weren’t penalties. What I’m saying is there are ample calls the other way that are there that aren’t being called, and it’s the double standard that frustrates me, and it frustrates other guys in our league when we come up here. It’s embarrassing,” Nobes said.

Or this except from the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal:
"Nobes said that although he wasn‘t happy with the way his team played, he was most upset with the officiating.

" 'It's unfortunate that the official absolutely discredits our league with that type of officiating,' Nobes said.

" 'I'm not happy 100 per cent with the way my team played tonight, but at the same time, it‘s tough to go in and tell them they had a fair shot to win ... with the way it was officiated.

" 'Something needs to be done about it.' "
So, I decided to see if there was anything to Coach Nobes assertions. To be honest; heading into this; I was skeptical but I thought that a little research couldn’t hurt.

I wasn’t at the game that night so I can’t personally comment on that night’s events; but from reading the game report; the final penalties assessed were 13 against Laurier and 12 against Lakehead. However, it seems that the crucial second period when Laurier was assessed a string of penalties and the Wolves took over the game was the span that angered Nobes.

In Saturday’s rematch, Laurier won 7-4 and also were assessed seven minors to Lakehead’s four in a real snoozer of a game (except for the last 10 minutes and for the play of Laurier netminder Jeff MacDougald).

First, a little background. Nobes took over as bench boss of the Hawks in 2006-07 after being coach at RMC. He has done an excellent job with Laurier, turning them into a perennial contender in the OUA. His squad was a few minutes away from a CIS championship final in 2007 before the Hawks lost a doubleOT heartbreaker against Moncton in the semifinal.

During the first three years of Nobes' Laurier tenure, the Golden Hawks and Lakehead played in the OUA Far West until this year’s divisional restructuring made two larger OUA West and East divisions. The Wolves and the Hawks, along with the Western Mustangs and the Waterloo Warriors have developed probably the best four-team rivalry going in any CIS sport, with each team capable of beating the other on any given night.

Lakehead and Laurier have become heated rivals, with the teams meeting up in the playoffs each of Nobes' first three seasons at Laurier and his Hawks skating away with series wins twice. Laurier has the best record of any team against the Wolves during the Nobes Era and was also the team that ended Lakehead’s unbeaten home playoff streak in '06-07.

Thunder Bay is also the centre of one of Hockey Canada’s administrative branches, Hockey Northwestern Ontario (HNO). There are presently six referees in the region capable of calling CIS games (with one leaving this coming Christmas). The referee in question from last Friday’s game, Andrew Brewer, is the referee-in-chief for Hockey Northwestern Ontario.

To see if there was anything to Coach Nobes' assertions; I went over the game reports of every game played between the Thunderwolves and the Golden Hawks during the past three plus seasons (the Nobes Era) at the Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay. (I know, get a life; but I had a day off after getting dental work done).

To add a little balance; I also checked penalties assessed at game during this time span between the squads played at Laurier’s home rink; the Sunlife Financial Arena in Waterloo. (I did not count misconducts).

During Nobes' first season ('06-07); the Wolves and the Hawks met five times: four in Thunder Bay and once in Waterloo. The four games at the Gardens were two reg season matches, one tourney game, and one playoff game with the game at the Sun Life Arena being a playoff match.

Penalties during the reg season games at the Gardens were 19 against Lakehead and 18 against Laurier. In the Gardens tourney game, penalties were seven against Lakehead and 10 against Laurier while the Gardens playoff game penalty count was 6 Wolves and 7 Laurier. The playoff game penalty count in Waterloo was 13 against Lakehead and 7 to Laurier.

Penalty count on the season at the Gardens was 42 against Lakehead and 45 against Laurier and 13 against Lakehead and 7 against Laurier in Waterloo for a season total of 55 Lakehead and 52 Laurier. In the all important wins category; Laurier won all five games that season and, of course, the playoff series. In the four games at the Gardens, Laurier had more penalties than Lakehead on two occasions and won both games.

During the '07-08 season, the two teams met seven times; four times at the Gardens and three times at the Sun Life Arena. The four Gardens games were two reg season and two playoff while the Sun Life games were two reg season and one playoff game.

Penalty count at the two reg season Gardens games was 22 against Lakehead and 20 against Laurier. Penalty count at the two Gardens playoff matches was 25 against Lakehead and 18 against Laurier. Count at the two Sun Life reg season games was 19 Lakehead; 16 Laurier. The Sun Life playoff game count was 8 against the Wolves and 10 against the Hawks. Total season Gardens penalty count was 47 Lakehead and 38 Laurier while total season Sun Life count was 27 Lakehead and 26 Laurier.

Lakehead won 4-of-7 games that season and the playoff series. Lakehead won its four home games that season; but Laurier only had more penalties in one of those games. The one game that Lakehead won in Waterloo; they had 10 penalties to Laurier’s 6. In both of the Hawks home wins; they had more penalties than the Wolves.

In 2008-09, the two teams met eight times: four times in reg season, three times in the playoffs and once during n/c play with four games being played in each team’s home arena. The Gardens games were two reg season, one non-conference and one playoff game while the Sun Life games were two reg season and two playoff matches.

Penalty count at the two reg season Gardens games was 13 against Lakehead and 15 against Laurier. Penalty count at the Gardens non-conference game was 7 Lakehead and 8 Laurier and the Gardens playoff match count was 1 each. (Best game ever played between the two teams by the way). Count at the two Sun Life reg season games was 15 Lakehead and 14 Laurier while the two playoff games count was 14 Lakehead and 12 Laurier.

Penalty count on the season at the Gardens was 21 Lakehead and 24 Laurier. Penalty count at Sun Life was 29 Lakehead and 26 Laurier. The Hawks won five of eight games last season and the playoff series.

In the four games at the Gardens, Lakehead won three games. In two of those games, the team with more penalties won. Laurier lost one with more penalties and one was even at one penalty apiece (a Lakehead win). In the four games at the Sun Life Arena (all Laurier wins); Lakehead had one more penalty in each game and one game had the same number of penalties.

Yes, I know that was long, but now to summarize. Overall, during the Nobes Era, the Hawks are 13-9 against Lakehead, and have won 2-of-3 playoff series.

During the 14 games at the Gardens during Nobes tenure; the overall penalty count was 126 against Lakehead and 127 against Laurier; a difference of one penalty in 14 games over four seasons! The Hawks posted a 6-8 record at the Gardens; an excellent mark in one of the toughest barns in CIS.

At the 8 games at the Sun Life Arena; the penalty count was 69 against Lakehead and 59 against Laurier; a difference of 10 but also not much of a spread over games in three seasons. Laurier has been dominant at home against Lakehead during the Nobes’ Era; posting a 7-1 mark.

It seems that Coach Nobes' assertions about possible consistent refereeing bias in Thunder Bay don’t hold much water. After looking at the game reports in terms of numbers of penalties, games with more penalties, and also in terms of team success.

The numbers also seem to support that refereeing in Waterloo also seems pretty balanced which I think is reflective of the fact that the referees across the CIS do the best job possible and are fair and balanced in their game calling.

I am one of those people that actually like when coaches get animated and start shouting a little at CIS hockey and basketball games. Sometimes coaches go off on the referees to try to get their team fired up. I like the added theatre.

I wasn’t at the game Friday night; perhaps referee Brewer had a bad stretch in the second period, maybe even a bad game.

He’s only human and refereeing is a tough pressure-filled job.

Coaches, players, and fans get caught up in the emotions of a game; and often it’s the hardworking referees who bear the brunt of emotional outbursts and frustrations.

Nobes is a very successful coach and recruiter for Laurier; but I think there should always be respect between coaches, players, and officials; and there is a line, in terms of behaviour, that shouldn’t be crossed. Sometimes heated words are exchanged; but there should always be respect.

Nobes might have stepped over that line Friday night in Thunder Bay; first in his post-game behaviour and and second in implying that Hockey Canada HNO officials have in some way consistently been inferior to their Southern Ontario counterparts.

He's only human and coaching is a tough pressure-filled job.
Next PostNewer Post Previous PostOlder Post Home


  1. Great job looking at the numbers, but without seeing a game these statistics alone are nothing but numbers without context. I'm not sure but looking at how "even" these games have been called might be the thing that incensed Coach Nobes. The CIS is infamous for having games called evenly-meaning same number of penalties for each team, even when one team is dominating the other. His complaint might be that one in every 3 "hooks" from lakehead equals a penalty, where as one in every 1 hook equals a penalty to the opposing team. Sometimes refs have tried to be too "fair and even" with the penalty calls and not being truly consistent with what a "hooking" penalty is and what a "interference" penalty is which should be called on both teams no matter what point of the game or what colour the jersey on the player. With the vocal Lakehead crowd it's easy to think that this might be the issue the coach was refering too. I'm not sure as I don't know any of the parties involved, but your analysis was purely statistical and lacked looking at what might be the "causing factors"...great effort though and glad to see other people with passion.

  2. This IS a great analysis. I love this stuff

    I agree with 1:54's point that the statistics alone can be misleading. Case in point: yes the number of penalties in last week's WLU - Lakehead 10-4 game were about even, but WHEN they were called is the key thing here. Laurier had 7 consecutive minor penalties assessed against them in the second period (including 3 at the 10:09 mark), and this resulted in 3 PPG for the Wolves. Now, I wasn't at the game, so maybe the Hawks deserved to have 7 in row called on them. In the third period, the Wolves had 5 minors called against them to 2 for the Hawks...but it was 8-4 for Lakehead when 3 of them were called, 10-4 when one was called and the other was a coincidental minor. All of this is to say, most of Laurier's penalties were called when the outcome of the game was in doubt, which is not the case with almost half of Lakehead's. I'd be very surprised if 1:54's point is not correct...that there was some evening up going on in the 3rd period.

    So the analysis that would be really interesting to do (and I'm not suggesting you do this) is to look at the pattern of penalties in all those games and see which ones were called and against which team when the outcome of the game was still in doubt.

  3. Is Laurier crying foul and wolf at the same time? Without seeing the games it is virtually impossible to make a qualitative assessment. However, I've been around enough games in the north to know that the penalty tally only tells part of the story. It doesn't take into consideration the intimidation factor, of the players or officials. The game stats also fail to describe the emotional state of the players on the two benches. The one indisputable truth I always accept is that much of sport is wrapped up in the emotion of the moment. This is the case so often that statistics usually fail to quantify when the true turning point of a game may have taken place. I'm not saying that the Laurier coach was right in bemoaning the states of officiating in Northern Ontario but I have seen, firsthand, what he was likely talking about.

    By the way, nice column.

  4. This is great stuff, Mike, and the effort is much appreciated.

    To summarize slightly differently: for the games that count, I get 86 penalties called against Lakehead at home vs. 79 for Laurier, and 59 called against Laurier at home vs. 69 for Lakehead.

    Which is basically the same ratio at both venues (i.e., more called against Lakehead), so I see no evidence of bias in the overall totals. As you mentioned, if it's as bad as the coach alleges, wouldn't we see a difference in the overall data?

    Also, here's the thing: Lakehead's had 975 penalty minutes over the last two years, vs. 1100 for Laurier, or about two minutes more for WLU per game. So the Hawks, regardless of venue, are more likely to be whistled for something...except when they play the Thunderwolves, it seems.

  5. Mike, great job on that stats. Unfortunately a stats analysis never reveal how many calls were NOT made, which seems to be the basis of Nobes' complaint.

    Last week in the UNB-Dal game, the Tigers took 10 minors in the third period, giving UNB 9 power plays. In the same period the V-Reds took 2 minors, putting Dal on the PP only once. In the entire game UNB had 15 power plays. Later "a UNB coach" told me that he didn't think the game was called too tight, but rather just right, as he often gets frustrated by clutching and grabbing teams that try to hold up quick teams like UNB, yet don't get called enough. In games like this, if an equal number of penalties is called on each team then it would be a disservice to UNB.

    For years in the Maritimes there were complaints about PEI refereeing. Island hockey teams tended to be stick happy, that appeared to be acceptable part of hockey on PEI, and the refs tended to let a lot of it go, infuriating visiting teams from the mainland. Similarly in the AUS, the NB and NS officials used to call games differently - NB refs tended to call it tight and NS refs tended to "let the boys play".

  6. I've always believed that officiating at Lakehead is more of an art than anything else.

    For example I think what Todd said is most accurate. In both games when the game is close the opposing team tends to "take" more penalties, once the game is decided, the penalties are evened up.. if Lakehead is winning.

    Also, another interesting fact is that when Laurier plays up there there is almost always a Hawk that ends up out of the lineup for a period of time due to a injury sustained during the game (Mark Voakes, in the playoffs knee on knee, no call comes to mind). Nobes' complaint isn't so much about the # of penalties, but what is called and what isn't. ie One standard for Lakehead, another standard for the visiting team. It's also a safety issue for players who go up there and get injured consistently with no calls on those plays.

    And Mike probably should have done a full disclosure bit RE he was Lakehead's SID for a number of years and their men's hockey teams' radio play by play caller. Not that the stats aren't insightful, but I believe in Lakehead's case the stats are made to be even... because if they were left as is... there would be more questions.

  7. Hi All,

    Lots of interesting comments. Also, a lot of truth that overall numbers don't necessarily reflect flow of game or turning point penalties as some games could have even up calls. I guess further study could go into when penalties occured during a game and if they caused key goals; but I'll leave that research to Hockey Canada or somebody else if they are interested.

    My point was there wasn't a big discrepancy; and in fact I bet all teams could make complaints about away refereeing all the time; including Lakehead at Laurier (which I believe would be unsubstantiated too). Coaches and players are definitely not that objective on this topic; that's the way it is.

    Again though; I think that if you checked all teams at home and away; not just Laurier and Lakehead; the penalties would probably be pretty close to even; except perhaps for teams that have a higher penalty rate in the overall course of a season.

    "Anonymous" still seems to think there is some kind of referee collusion and/or poor performance going on in Thunder Bay; well, if there is collusion; I never heard about it. He calls refereeing an art; well I guess it is in a way. The refs have their training but once on the ice; it is fast and crazy out there and they have to do their objective best. I am not defending the refs but I am pretty sure the refs are the same everywhere; some nights good; some not as good; and almost always somebody on some team is not happy.

    Anonymous seems to imply that Laurier players are injured often when they go to Thunder Bay and then no calls made; I a sorry but I really can't believe that. All teams have lots of injuries during a year; Laurier and Lakehead played each other a lot so law of averages here.

    Finally; re: me disclosing I was SID at Lakehead. Um, yes, I was SID at Lakehead for 8 years and am very proud to have begun their Sports Info from scratch (I never did radio though I did produce and commentate on hockey vidcasts and bball and vball and whatever I had to) and it was disclosed in the first couple of entries in my column here at CISBlog; I guess Neate could put a header on top of each one?

    However, Anonymous seems to imply that I may have some kind of motive for this column; based upon me being the former Lakehead SID. He is right; my motive was curiousity; plain and simple. Am I anti-Laurier because of my past job; hardly. In fact; I always admired Laurier's talented teams in the past (always liked Matt Maccarone and Nick Vergeer and the Voakes brothers; great players as well as goalie MacDougald) and was cheering them on back in 2007 at the Nationals on TV when they should have beaten Moncton but for bad luck at the end of regulation play. However, now I am on the other side of the fence and I am very objective. In fact, if I weren't objective; the way I was treated in my final year as Lakehead SID would have made me anti-Lakehead and not pro-Lakehead...ha ha.

  8. Tbay hockey fan11/13/2009 10:44 pm

    I was at both games between Lakehead and Laurier last weekend. The officiating wasn’t the greatest, but it was fair. The ref called a tight game on Friday, Lakehead adjusted accordingly, Laurier didn’t. The ref let just as many calls slide against Laurier as he did Lakehead; if he called every little thing it would have been much worse for Laurier. The ref not talking to Laurier players after penalty calls might have had something to do with the Laurier players, and their coach, having huge hissy fits after every call. Shooting the puck at the officials usually doesn’t help either …

    I find some of coach Nobes comments interesting though … He states that in Southern Ontario you don’t see officiating like this. Now, a lot of the penalties that Laurier took were forced by Lakehead simply being faster, stronger and more aggressive, Laurier was caught flat footed a lot in that game. So, I have to ask the question, are the refs in Southern Ontario simply not calling these penalties or is Laurier playing a different style of game against teams that maybe aren’t as aggressive as Lakehead?

    McDougald was chased from the net in the first period, which is no small feat; Lakehead was really dominating at this point. The score is deceiving because it shows 4-3 after one period, but really it should have been 5-2. Lakehead scored a goal that went in and out pretty quick, while the Lakehead players were celebrating the ref waived off the goal, Laurier took the puck down the ice on an odd man rush and scored to make the score 4-3 – the ref really messed up on that call, funny how coach Nobes didn’t mention that though …

    The second period was horrible for Laurier, I felt bad for the players, but they just weren’t skating and took a lot of bad penalties. The part that bothers me the most is that coach Nobes did absolutely nothing to calm his players down and get them refocused. I think at that point he knew the game was lost and was more than happy to let things snowball out of control, this would just give him more to complain about after the game. Two bench minors for unsportsmenlike conduct and a 10 minute misconduct for shooting the puck at an official says it all. As far as I’m concerned Laurier was not only outplayed, but also out coached.

    The conduct of the Laurier coach during and after the game was very unprofessional, and the league really needs to look at that more than the officiating …

  9. After having viewed many games at the Fort William Gardens watching the Wolves play other CIS teams I am beginning to see a trend. The biggest concern here is for the student athletes involved. Over the past several years there have been several serious, for some career ending injuries at the Fort William Gardens versus the Lakehead Thunderwolves. It is not the percentage of penalties compared to the away team, the concern lies with the major and minor penalties that aren't called against the home team. For the average hockey fan any referee can make a game look close in penalties by calling the home team on infractions to even up the totals, once the game is out of reach or by calling several 5 on 3's at turning points in a game. The former is what happens consistently at Lakehead. As a supporter of the CIS we want to send our best teams to the National Championship. The Integrity of some of these referees is certainly in question!