Getting to Know Hockey Refs on a First-Name Basis

Hockey Ref

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.

CoachingAbout 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.


Hockey Playoff Losses Can Hurt

hockey playoffsThe Devil and her Sharks teammates had a pretty good run in our first round playoff run though it was stopped short and abruptly much to our dismay. We went in as underdogs being the 7th seed facing the 2nd, but were pretty confident in having played our opponents tough during the regular season with a loss, a tie and a win…in that order.

The second place finisher would naturally get home ice advantage, so we started last weekend with a game in “enemy” territory. In games past against this team we’d had some challenges with fair and equitable refereeing and I went into this series with some trepidation on this front. Before we played a single minute in this foreign rink, one of the officials commented to me,”I just want to let you know I like to call a fair game.” I thought it an odd statement at the time, but little did I know how it would foreshadow events to come. All I wanted for our playoffs was fairly officiated games decided by the two teams and I like to think I’m able to stay fairly objective when it comes to the conduct of my players.

In game one our side came out flying; taking it to the opponents buoyed by the knowledge they had a good chance to advance if they put in the work. We had far more scoring chances through the first half of the game and took a 1-0 lead halfway through the second period. Unfortunately, the home side scored with less than 10 seconds left in the second frame and the game would be decided in the third. The last period would see a trend of our goalie being poked at after the referee’s whistle was blown, which I disputed vehemently; disputes which fell on deaf ears. Instead, we found ourselves on the wrong end of penalty calls and shorthanded for a good part of the period. Admittedly, our side also let their combined foot off the gas. Long story short; the scoreboard read Home 3 – Visitors 1. Opportunity missed and game two quickly became a must win.

Game two would be in our barn and I did my best to convince the girls they had won two of the first three frames of the series. They agreed and were quietly determined to force a third game. Their steely determination was required as they would score the first and only goal of the game just 7 minutes into the first period. Two and a half periods is a painfully long time to have to hold on to a single goal lead. Partway through the second one of our players did have a glorious opportunity to extend out lead to two goals, but she didn’t realize how much time she had to convert a wraparound attempt and placed the puck under a sprawling goalie rather than in the more desirable empty net. Once the game was over and we were comfortable in our victory, we were able to poke a little fun at her miscue.

The series winner would need to be decided six days later (the night before last) back in “their” building. Again, our side got off to a roaring start with several scoring chances and the first goal of the game. A couple of bounces could have given us a two or three goal lead going into the 2nd period, but we’d settle for one and battle on; a struggle made tougher by inconsistent calls by my favourite man in stripes. I hate to sound like a whiner or sore loser, but it wasn’t the calls against us; rather the calls which weren’t made against our opponents for obvious infractions getting under our skin. Or one of our players getting reprimanded for “snowing” the opposing goalie when she clearly didn’t from anyone but the referee’s perspective. I could feel our side getting increasingly frustrated. Shortly thereafter the home team would erase their deficit then take the lead and we would enter the final frame behind by one on the scoreboard.

Not long into the third I can, with little to no bias say, all hell broke loose. Time both stood still and flew by from moment to moment. First our opponents dealt a crippling blow when a seemingly harmless shot from just inside the blue line found its way past our keeper. Then only moments later another rush ended with the puck in our net, our defeated goalie sprinted to the bench for refuge and just like that we faced relatively insurmountable odds. Yet, with 11 minutes still left to play I implored our side to not give up and they did not. That being said, our striped nemesis called a 4 minute penalty against one of ours for a phantom check to the head.

On the ensuing penalty kill, the Devil barrelled down the ice with an opposing defender who had at least 10 inches in height and 60 pounds in weight on her in hot pursuit of a puck shot into the corner. Arriving simultaneously, the larger player used her size to knock her diminutive foe to the ice. Relentless, the Devil flailed and grabbed the puck with her gloved hand. Two players from either team arrived in support and at some point the Devil’s original counterpart toppled onto the little Shark lying on the ice. Moments later we all noted the Devil to be in some distress as she hailed for a couple of teammates to help her get up off the ice on what appeared to be a wonky leg. She was half-laughing and half-sobbing as she reached the bench and emphatically described what had just happened (her exact words are censored here to protect the innocent, but suffice it to say the air was blue). Hockey momma immediately ushered her injured daughter and her injured leg off the ice for closer examination knowing she rarely in 12 years of hockey has gone down without good reason.

The game continued and not moments later on another pursuit, this time into our corner, one of our defenders was dangerously tripped just before she reached the boards, crashing feet first. Another of our players rushed in to avenge her and whistles blew frantically. Our defender was barely able to rise, but made her way back to our bench where she immediately slumped down crying inconsolably. The next several moments were a blur as I was informed my newly injured player was being given a penalty. My frustration admittedly reached a fever pitch and I blew up letting my striped nemesis know what I thought of his judgment. I was livid. To be clear, I refrained from cursing, but my imploration was countered by instruction to leave the bench immediately. I received first official ejection from a game. Even now, I feel I was justified in defending my player who I felt then and still feel now was wrongly accused.

As I left the bench, I turned to remind my remaining players to hold their emotions better than I had mine. At that point, with approximately 7 mins left in the game and a series victory out of reach I just wanted the game to end quickly and without further incident. I would restlessly watch the rest of the game from just outside the arena. My wish was unfortunately not granted by the Hockey Gods. Minutes after my exit, our now least favourite official continued with his antics in deciding to accuse another of our players of phantom “snowing” of the goalie, only this time going a step further and assessing a penalty. What happened next I in no way condone, but can almost understand. The accused player in the heat of the moment swung her stick at the ref, striking him in the leg. She was naturally tossed from the game and now faces a severe sanction for her actions. Again, she made an egregious error and will have to face the consequences, however, I firmly believe the referee had some culpability in how the events of this period unfolded. This is the only platform I have to dispute so I’m doing so at the risk of this coming across as another disillusioned hockey parent. One more goal would be scored by the home side before the game mercifully came to an end. It was hard to believe you could pack so much drama and misfortune into a single period – a bitter loss after the effort put forth by our side throughout the series.

Devil with a broken legPost game the bulk of our players had to stand and wait outside our dressing room as the Devil’s injured leg had been assessed just inside the door and an ambulance had been called. The whole situation was a little surreal. I was still seeing red, but held my tongue as I wished the victorious coach and his team good luck in the next round. I did my best to console and prop up the spirits of my players who only an hour earlier were full of energy and high hopes. I think we all felt more than a little robbed. Players were eventually allowed in to change out of their gear one by one; each leaving in decidedly sombre moods. The Devil was eventually wheeled out on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance and our next stop was the hospital for x-rays on her wounded limb. broken legTrainer Momma was pretty sure it was broken. A few hours later her unofficial diagnosis was confirmed. The Devil’s hockey season would end prematurely and the team would be down at least three players moving forward (oh, did I not mention our backup goalie came limping off the ice from this game with a re-injured knee). The defender who I had been ejected for would be touch and go with a foot she had trouble putting weight on. And, of course, the story does not end there as our now depleted team would need to bounce back a mere 24 hours later to face the top team in our league to start a round robin series to decide qualifiers for our provincial championships; a daunting task with a full and confident squad.

Fast forward roughly 20 hours to a new rink and our new opponents, a strong team against which we’d yet to register a win in four tries at 0-3-1. I with a game suspension and three of our players (including the Devil sporting a fancy new air cast) would watch from the stands while one other was away on a humanitarian trip. Our remaining eight forwards, four defenders and lone goalie would need to put forth a monumental effort to pull off the upset. We (or at least I) cheered emphatically as they were able to get halfway through the first and partway through the second period before giving up the first goal of the game. Undeterred, our side countered just over a minute later with a goal of their own. The final period was intense with our foes getting multiple scoring chances which were turned away one after the other by a stalwart goaler who’d obviously erased the previous game from her conscience. The match ended in a 1-1 tie, but felt much more like a victory in light of the circumstances.

One game had left our players bruised, but certainly not beaten. There are three more games in our double round robin playoff which resumes tomorrow night. I will be doing my best to remind this resilient, scrappy group just how well they have played in the face of adversity. And as always, I welcome a little support and some icy justice from the Hockey Gods who were surely resting or focused elsewhere the day before last. Excuse me if I sound bitter. It’s only cuz I am.  I won’t lie…that one is probably gonna sting for a while.