Editorial By:
Robert Kirwan
President and CEO
Infocom Canada Business Consultants Inc.


Sheldon Craigen has a son who plays goal on a midget team in the Millwoods SEERA Hockey association. He sent a comment to After The Whistle which raised a very interesting point. While he takes issue with the referee who handled all three games in which his son's team played during a recent tournament, his comments should not be seen as a criticism of the particular referee, but rather as an indication of a much larger problem which is facing minor hockey today. I would like to repeat his comment here for discussion purposes.
I am the parent of a Midget Goaltender who participated in a Christmas tournament in New Sarepta. We had the same referee for three games. He was consistently bad for all three games. I hope it was not the same  referee who was involved in the bantam tournament. If by chance it was then that referee should be suspended forever. He was not consistent in calling the play for either team and let our games get out of hand. We won the first game and lost the last two. In the last game one of our players was slashed with a two handed slash that broke his wrist. No penalty! My son was repeatedly run by the other team and when he said something to the referee , the referee , told him to keep his head up. After about the 7 time my son lost his cool and fought back He slashed the offending player with his goal stick, the referee did not see it no penalty was called, the slashed player jumped my son from behind. My son wrestled himself on top of the other player and started to punch him. This resulted in a match penalty because my son had never been in a fight before and did not know enough to remove his gloves in a fight. He received a three game suspension from the Millwoods SEERA Hockey association. He did deserve this and has served his suspension. If the refereeing had not been so bad I feel that this horrible incident would not have happened. I strongly feel the coach should have questioned the tournament organizer about being given the same referee for all three games in a tournament and requested an alternate for the third game. At the start of the game I said out loud to a parent beside me " I wonder if the referee is going to take up where he left off in the last game?" The referee heard me and looked right at us and said "yes". I fight hard to keep from be-littling the referees as I referee seniors and I know how hard it is . If I was as incompetent as this one was I would hang up my skates.


Hockey tournaments have become extremely popular in the last ten or fifteen years. It is not uncommon for teams - whether they are house league or rep clubs - to take part in as many as five, six or more tournaments each season. These tournaments are usually held from Friday to Sunday and guarantee each team a minimum of three games. A good team may get as many as six games on a weekend if they get to the championship game.

Say what you want - tournaments are used as a way for hockey associations to raise money. Many years ago, someone got the bright idea that if you gathered a lot of teams together for a "compressed competition"; charged a high entry fee for the teams; sell tickets to parents who came to the games to watch their children; operated a concession with a licensed bar; and sold advertising in programs, you could make a lot of money and keep the local registration fees from rising too high. 


Eventually, all hockey associations got wind of this and we now have what I will call the "raffle-ticket phenomenon" in minor hockey. By this, I mean that it is almost expected that if a team comes to your tournament, you should be going to theirs. For example, if someone sells you a raffle ticket, you expect them to buy one from you when it is your turn to sell. I also see this phenomenon being used with respect to 50-50 draws. Many minor hockey teams designate a parent to sell 50-50 tickets to fans as a way to raise money. So, if you buy tickets when you visit another arena, you expect those people to buy tickets when they come to your arena.


Hockey tournaments have now gotten out of hand. It is becoming increasingly expensive to run tournaments, so games are shortened, entry fees are increased and admission prices have sky-rocketed. Furthermore, municipalities have found that they can make more money renting out ice during tournaments than they can during regular weekends, so they schedule as many as they possibly can during the season. Coaches sometimes have to go to tournaments just so that their team can keep active. And many of them are out of town.


Whenever you go to a hockey tournament, you are risking disaster as a coach. 

First of all, parents would like to play different teams when they go to a tournament. However, when you play different teams from different associations, you have no idea of the calibre of their clubs. The situation is worse in house league and lower tier levels. Once you get to the AAA level, you find the competition pretty much even.

Another thing you often find when you go to a tournament is that the style of officiating is not what you are accustomed to. Sure, we will always say that the rule book is the same regardless of where you play, but the reality is that the supervisor of officials has a lot to do with the consistency of his or her referees. On top of this, it is extremely difficult to find officials who have time to do games during the day at tournaments - especially if they are held on weekdays. Therefore, you can sometimes find inexperienced referees on the ice in situations which will be hard to handle merely because they were the only ones available.


Tournament organizers also try to squeeze in as many games as possible. This leads to another problem when it comes to officiating. It is not uncommon to find referees doing up to 20 games during a weekend tournament. Not only is this tiring, but it is also extremely difficult to keep sharp and on top of your game as an official when you are on the ice for three or four intense games in a row. And yet, it is often hard to avoid this type of scheduling simply because we don't have enough referees.

The fact that Mr. Craigen's son had the same referee for all three of his games is not surprising. While it doesn't happen often, it is possible. Referees must be scheduled prior to the beginning of a tournament. They have a life too and cannot all be sitting around the entire weekend not knowing when they will be going on the ice. So when the game is scheduled, the referee-in-chief may not have any idea of who will be playing. He is given times and must make sure that the officials are scheduled. The assignment of the referees for the championship games may be done during the tournament, but the majority of games are assigned in advance.

A referee is not too impressed when he is forced to do the same team more than once or twice in a tournament. Time is the best healer, so during the season if you are in a difficult game there is usually a period of time before you do the same team again. In a tournament, you may have an extremely difficult contest in the morning and find yourself on the ice with the same team a few hours later. This is unfortunate, but it can't be helped. The referee knows the players, coaches and fans will be on his case from the opening whistle because of the problems which arose in the previous game. Add to this the fact that the emotions increase as you get deeper into the tournament and you can well imagine the pressure that a referee feels if he is doing a team for the 3rd time in a day or two.


Tournaments tend to bring out the worst in parents and coaches. The games are emotional powder kegs. If you have traveled a long way to get to the tournament, and if each family has spent hundreds of dollars for hotels, food and other expenses, you want to win at all cost. Add to that the fact that the games may have been shortened a bit for scheduling purposes, and it is easy to see why people lose their tempers easily. We also realize that tournaments often provide alcoholic beverages as refreshment and it is obvious what that does as you get later into the day.


It is time for hockey associations to re-evaluate their priorities. The most important thing they do is organize a league for their member teams. It is time for everyone to stop being so concerned about attending tournaments and pay more attention to using the time and money for additional practices and games with local competition in a situation where they have control over the environment. Tournaments are fine at the end of the season to determine a regional champion, but they have long lost their usefulness as a form of competition during the season.

Tournaments have also lost their usefulness as a fund-raiser for the most part. The expenses have risen so much that the profits have fallen. As a parent, I felt that hockey tournaments were nothing more than a big waste of money. I would spend up to $500 on a weekend to watch my son play 3 to 5 games in order to get a medal that he could hang on the wall. That works out to over $100 per game. When I coached minor hockey teams, I often rationalized with parents who wanted to go on out of town trips. I told them that I would rather have them all pay me $500. That would give me $8000 that I could use to purchase extra ice-time for up to 80 games and practices instead of using that money to buy five games and 16 medals.

Perhaps the most important reason for cutting back on tournaments is because of what tournaments tend to do to the image of minor hockey. Many of the most notorious negative incidents occur during tournaments. Players, coaches, parents and fans get all caught up in the emotional atmosphere surrounding the intense tournament play and then anything can happen.

For the time being, it looks as if tournaments are going to be a big part of the hockey scene for a while yet. Therefore, it is up to tournament organizers and coaches to try to keep a handle on the situation in order to ensure positive experiences for all participants. However, do not bury your head in the sand. If you plan on attending a tournament, be prepared for anything.



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