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Canucks forward Alex Burrows and referee Stephane Auger renew acquaintances tonight on Long Island

Jan 11, 2011, 6:18 PM EDT

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Stephane Auger

The job of an NHL referee is generally to try and go through a game and to not be noticed at all. Sure, make your calls and whistle for penalties and point for the goals but you don’t want fans to know your name going into the game and you certainly don’t want them leafing through the game program to look up your name after a bad call. In the case of Stephane Auger, we all got to know his name really well last year thanks to Alex Burrows.

Burrows accused Auger of having a personal vendetta against him after a particularly tough Canucks game, a 3-2 loss to Nashville, in which Burrows was booked for three minor penalties, two in the third period, one of which led to the Predators go-ahead goal. In Burrows’ checkered career, this game could qualify as the low point of it all venting his frustrations in bombastic style after the game.

Tonight, Auger is set to be on the ice for a Canucks game a full year to the date since the game in question. It’s the first time he’s done a game Burrows has played in since then and if you think they haven’t taken notice of this in Vancouver, you’re greatly mistaken.

“It’s not a big deal to me, really,” Burrows said after this morning’s game-day skate at Nassau Coliseum. “It’s something I have put in the past. Tonight I am not going to approach the game differently. It’s a game where we have to get back on the winning track and I am going to do everything I can to do that.”

Burrows does not anticipate having any kind of chat with Auger before or during tonight’s game.

“I haven’t talked to one ref all year,” Burrows said. “I won’t change that.”

Burrows has been a changed guy this year. His chirping and borderline dirty has disappeared and he’s still playing good, solid, physical hockey. His goal output compared to last year is a bit down but he’s still a key contributor to the Canucks attack. That said, not everyone in Vancouver is excited to see a game with Auger prominently involved once again. Iain MacIntyre of Puckworld voices his thoughts on Auger’s work.

Regretably, it had to happen at some point. Clearly, the NHL isn’t going to fire Auger of they’d have done so last summer. So the referee is here for a while and so are the Canucks and Burrows. Still, a year without Auger was not long enough.

I’m disappointed to have Auger work the Canucks. But not because he’ll act unfairly towards Burrows, but because Auger is consisently erratic and low-grading, as revealed by the NHL’s annual decision not to schedule him for playoff games. Long before the Burrows incident, I considered Auger and Brad Meier the two most frustrating referees in the league. And lest anyone think I have a low regard for NHL officials, generally, I actually think they do a pretty good job. My favorites include Kelly Sutherland, Tim Peel and Tom Kowal, and most of the senior officials — Dave Jackson, Paul Devorski, Don van Massenhoven and Dave Jackson.

Does that mean we’ll hear cries of “Fire Auger!” at the first bad call of the night against the Islanders? Well, we might’ve heard that that from Canucks fans regardless of the referee involved. Canucks fans being as fiery as they are would be likely to yell no matter what. Still, it’ll be fascinating to see how things play out should things get out of hand at all. If the Islanders want to test their luck, stirring things up with Burrows might not be the worst idea.

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