Getting to Know Hockey Refs on a First-Name Basis
I’ve pondered whether or not I should share this for a while, not wanting to come off as another whiny hockey coach questioning a referee’s judgment and spewing sour grapes after a loss. However, upon reflection and after having retold the tale to several empathetic friends and family, I decided it was well worth relating, if only to illustrate the oddity for your enjoyment and my own catharsis.
The story begins with a second rematch on the road with a league rival against whom we’d lost by a goal and tied 1-1 in our two previous meetings. We on the coaching staff were enthusiastic about our chances to even up the series with a victory of our own and some momentum built on the team’s play from the past week. Unfortunately, our momentum was squashed a few minutes into the first period when a turnover in the neutral zone was followed by a bouncing puck finding its way through our goaltender. A second goal for the bad guys just before the end of the first resulted in some droopy shoulders on the part of our skaters. With two periods to go the deficit was certainly not insurmountable and I urged the team to keep battling as they had in recent games. Battle they did until halfway through the second period when when our foes found the back of the net again. Shoulders would continue to shrug on and off the ice resulting in yet two more goals against and a 5-0 hole with a period to play.
Between periods I had one simple message for the team, “Let’s just go out and win the next period.” I told them to get back to playing smart, aggressive hockey as we knew they could. You could sense the frustration in the room mounting. Back on the ice I was happy to see a different team. We were holding our own. We were getting a few scoring opportunities. Early in the period, there were what I thought were a couple of missed calls by the referee as our girls were either interfered with or, in one instance, hauled down. With Momma in my ear of late regarding the chirping of refs, I held my opinions to myself. Momma has warned me our oft penalized team may be getting a reputation, which may have been a factor in my impending dilemma. As the game wore on one of our players took her frustration out with an indisputable body check and served a 2 minute penalty as a result. When she returned to the bench she was reprimanded, however, on her next shift she made her way to the sin bin again after being called for an apparent head contact infraction, which I did not see. Regardless, when she was done with this second penalty I let her know she would not be playing in the final couple of minutes of the game; which I think she already realized.
About a minute later, with only 46 seconds remaining in regulation time, the real crux of this saga arrived. As an oncoming player tried to enter our defensive zone one of our bigger defenders stood straight up to greet her. The smaller player crumpled to the ice. About four or five healthy steamboats later, the head referee raised his hand to call a body contact penalty. I am certain no call would have been made had the greetee bounced to her feet. As the referee escorted my player to the penalty box I may have calmly suggested he note the presence of two teams sharing the ice. Without hesitation he turned and shouted, “Jeff, do you have a problem with me?” (Yeah, how the hell did he know my name? Guess he spent some time reading the game sheet.) Then he skated over to address me and I stepped down from the bench to meet him. I was so taken aback by his initial use of my first name, I can only paraphrase what he said next…”Jeff (he did it again) do you not see what’s happening out here? Are you seriously questioning my calls? In all my years of reffing I have not seen such an aggressive team. Maybe you should go back and learn how to coach.” Our team Captain staining to my right argued, “He can’t say that!”, with which I concurred, but returned to my spot on the bench bewildered by the ref’s verbal attack. Before he left to speak with the other coach he shouted, “Jeff, if I see one player leave this bench you are outta here!” I wasn’t sure what he actually meant by leaving the bench and waited for him to return to resume play. After a 30 second conversation with the other team’s coach he skated towards the faceoff circle, first stopping to issue one more warning, “Jeff, did you hear me? One more player and yor’re gone.” Despite my best efforts I could control my tongue no longer and shouted back, “Ohhhh, I hear you LOUD and CLEAR!” George Costanza, for all you Seinfeld fans, woulda been proud. I coulda used a little “Serenity Now!” I did not, however, at any point utter a single cuss word, which in retrospect may have better justified my fate. As you can imagine, a mere moments later I stepped down from my bench, stepped out onto the ice, slid over to and then thru the opposing team’s bench, which stood between me and the lobby, where I would watch the last 46 seconds of the game in disbelief. To add insult to injury, the home team would register one more goal for good measure. I, for my egregious indiscretion, would earn an extra game suspension. To my captain’s credit, she attempted to reason with the referee post-game and was told he may have missed a call or two, but we were still too aggressive.
At the risk of sounding bitter, I’ll contend this particular striped fellow’s perception was clouded. I did not, nor would I ever, condone overly aggressive play. We admittedly have a couple of players who have self-discipline challenges we have and likely will continue to struggle with. But at the top of my list of team rules is Respect for opponents, teammates and yes, even refs. Without knowing what may have brought his outburst on, I’ll suggest this particular ref could stand to take a peek at my list.
At practice three days later, I made my first order of business an apology to my players, for losing my composure as I’ve asked them to maintain theirs in the heat of battle. With no recourse, I took my league prescribed medicine in the next game, sitting with my parents up in the stands and wringing my hands through a 1-0 loss.
This weekend I’ll return to the bench for our home tourney with my lips firmly pursed. I have no plans on leaving again any time soon, but sometimes you never know what this game will throw at you. A good story or two at the very least.