Now I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but there has been the odd occasion when I’ve disagreed with a call or calls made by a ref in a game. From time to time, I have questioned, admittedly out loud, the abilities of certain officials. I will even admit to taking some pleasure in yelling a particularly witty remark following a questionable penalty or missed call. Hockey mom most often lowers her gaze in feigned embarrassment; though I think she’s used to my comments. Rarely are they lobbed with any real malice. But at least a couple of times I’ve wished that I was the best friend of a ref so I could ask him or her after a game what they were thinking when they made what was an obviously incorrect call.
Refereeing is a critical part of the game. Referees can certainly have an impact on the flow and tone of a game. I would never outright blame a ref for a loss or praise a ref for a win; but their calls or non-calls can have a distinct effect on team morale and eventual outcomes.
These thoughts are rather fresh in my mind as last night I witnessed some questionable calls against the Boy’s team, including a fairly significant non-call on a tying goal against scored late in the game. The non-call in question occurred when the opposing team put a puck in the net after a scramble out front, which saw one of their players tied up with the goalie in the crease (a definite no-no for those non-hockey fans). After the goal was scored the offending player actually looked deliberately, nay sheepishly, at the referee, assuming the goal would be disallowed; as did many other onlookers both on and off the ice. But no such call was made despite the pleading of the Boy’s coach. Earlier in the game the same ref made a couple of questionable penalty calls against the Boy’s team leaving them shorthanded. The game would end in a tie. The tie wasn’t completely attributable to the actions of the ref, but they certainly didn’t help.
Hockey is fast. I understand it’s often difficult to keep up. Just ask Fox Sports who decided they needed to create a glowing puck a few years back so uneducated U.S. hockey fans could figure out where it was on the ice. Hockey is probably the most difficult game to officiate. I don’t expect or assume a ref will see every play or make every call. I have, however, oft wondered about a ref’s eyesight, their perspective or a seeming lack thereof on those plays where the action is not frantic or the offense occurs directly in front of them. Just like there are players who are strong and those who are weaker, the same is true of referees. I’ve witnessed both as a fan in the stands and as coach on the bench.
One of my favourite referees regularly officiated girls’ games a few years back who I met as an assistant coach on the bench. He was an older gentleman who was in exceptional condition for his age and you could just tell took a great deal of pride in his work. He always made a point of addressing and conversing with the coaching staff before a game. In working with younger girls, he also made a point of getting down to their level when he made blew his whistle or made a particular call. Post-game he would regularly comment on the quality of the game; indicating that he was truly involved and not just going through the motions. On more than one occasion he made the wrong call and was either able to admit to the same after the fact or at least provide a reason for his actions. I haven’t seen this ref in a few years, most likely because as my kids have gotten older he has lost a step and realizes he is no longer able to effectively keep up with the speed of the game.
Two years ago on the other hand, both the Boy and the Devil had regularly assigned referees in our hometown who were firmly in the latter bucket from a quality perspective ; referees who many would agree made consistently poor calls both for and against. Before long we parents would ask each other before and after games if anyone was monitoring the quality of these referees.
Hockey, as particularly older boy’s hockey, is physical game. Non-calls or inconsistent calls can sometimes lead to players getting overly aggressive with sticks, body checks or post-whistle scuffles. Such was the case in one of the Boy’s games last year overseen by one of the aforementioned referees. From the stands, we could all see the game bubbling to a fever pitch; but the head official seemed either ignorant or uninterested. As the last shift of the game ended a scuffle in one of the corners erupted into an all out brawl. Thirteen and fourteen year old boys paired up throwing haymakers and uppercuts wildly as the referee stood idly by writing notes in a book he pulled from his pocket (we would later find out he was jotting down offending players’ numbers). No one moved in to stop the melee for well over a minute. Some would say this is all part of hockey, but this particular situation never would have or should have happened had the game been controlled by the official in the first place.
Some situations on the other hand are downright comical. When I was manning a door on the bench for one of the Devil’s games I made the mistake of emphatically pointing out what I felt was a blatantly missed off-side call by young referee. As I was running the door, I pointed over the boards at the offending player on the other team and yelled “OFFSIDE”. The ref wheeled, looked at me with a distinct level of disgust, raised his arm and abruptly blew his whistle. He skated over and shouted “TWO MINUTES FOR GRABBING A PLAYER ON THE ICE.”
I simply said, “Pardon me?”
“YOU HEARD ME. YOU GET TWO FOR REACHING OUT AND GRABBING THAT PLAYER AS SHE SKATED BY.”
First off, I would never attempt such an idiotic move. Secondly, my arm would have needed to be at least 10 feet long for me to be able to reach the closest opposing player. Nonetheless, I was assessed a two minute bench minor for my apparent indiscretion. In my further defence, if the official had made the call he intended I would have been assessed a game misconduct and a possible further two game suspension. Either the ref didn’t know what he was calling or he simply wanted to punish me for calling out the off-side he missed. My guess is it was a little of both. All of this being said, I am to this day, the infamous coach who grabbed a player from the ice; because that’s so like me.
Last, but certainly not least in the list of referee stories, is the seemingly happy go-lucky guy in stripes who officiated one of the Boy’s games during the holiday season. The entire game we watched this ref waltzing around the ice, flipping the puck in the air like a circus juggler before each face-off and singing some rousing song or other to himself. Post-game the Boy said the ref was chuckling at something and blurting out nonsense the whole game. I determined, I believe correctly, that this particular official was under the influence of some foreign substance. As such I labeled him “Mr. Happy”. As we visit the same town from time to time we’ve seen him again, but he’s never been quite so animated as he was that game; thereby solidifying our suspicions.
In minor hockey, it’s important to keep in mind that most refs, like most players, are not NHL calibre and as such should all be given some leeway by fans, coaches and players. Some referees receive too much abuse, while other bring it upon themselves. Those officials who put forth their best efforts to make fair and accurate calls; those who strive to maintain a safe and positive environment for the players; are important participants in the game whose contributions should never be overlooked or under-appreciated.