Keep Your Eyes On The Puck
See Only What You Want To See
by Robert Kirwan: Publisher

Every good referee has an ambition to do games at as high a level as possible. If Junior A hockey is in your area, then you hope one day to be judged competent enough to be assigned games at that level. Nevertheless, as you find yourself being promoted through the ranks, you discover that each level up is a whole new experience. The play is faster. The players are stronger. And the players have developed a whole lot of skill at doing things behind the back of the referee.

When you are doing games at a lower level, the play is generally slow enough for you to scan the entire rink to keep a watchful eye out for 'all' infractions. An experienced referee can do this and still keep his eye on the puck. 

At the upper levels, such as 'AAA' Bantam, Midget, High School and Junior 'A', it becomes increasingly more difficult to scan all of the activity around and behind you and still keep up with the play. In addition, you will find that just about every time two players come within range of each other something is bound to happen which could border on being called a penalty.

Senior referees soon accept that there is one priority that takes precedence over all others, and that is watching the puck to determine if a goal is scored. It is nice to be able to see "everything", but when all is said and done, the puck is the most important thing on the ice. 

Senior referees also discover that the best thing about concentrating on the play in the immediate vicinity of the puck is that you can "ignore" some of the other nonsense that is going on around you. This doesn't mean that you don't see them or are not aware of them, but you can generally ignore these borderline infractions if they are away from the puck.

In discussing this matter with Warren Kirwan, he explained, "Everyone in the building, including the players and the coaches, are following the play. Most of them see only what is happening around the puck. So if you are trying to keep your eyes on things that are happening behind the play or away from the puck, very few people will see this. However, everyone sees the play around the puck. If you miss an obvious penalty behind you, people will understand that you didn't see it. But if you miss something that happens around the puck, everyone lets you know and that is when the game can get a bit out of control emotionally."

"Everyone expects the referee to be following the puck. They will excuse you if you miss something that is off to the side or behind you and most of them won't even see it themselves. But they won't excuse you if something happens around the puck because if they all saw it, so should the referee," Warren continued. "There are obviously times when you see two players acting up and you have to watch until they split up and move on, but for the most part, if you focus on the play around the puck, you are seeing what everyone else in the arena is seeing."

Young referees will find that their life becomes a whole lot easier when they realize that they don't have to see everything that goes on in a game. You will also find that once players realize that the referee isn't always going to protect them from a retaliation, the trouble-makers tend to avoid causing trouble behind the play. For example, we have all seen the players who like to jab and stick opponents behind the legs or in the ribs. These agitators are highly skilled at getting their opponents to retaliate with a slash or a punch. And we all know that it is often the retaliator who gets the penalty. If the agitator realizes that the referee is going to ignore that retaliatory punch or slash, he tends to think twice. It's one thing to cause trouble when you expect to be protected by the referee or to draw a penalty and give your team a man advantage, but it's quite something else when you know that you are going to be on the receiving end with no penalty. Agitators like to dish it out, but they don't like to get it back."

So as you continue to develop your skills as a referee, remember to keep your eyes around the puck and call the obvious infractions in that area. Be aware of what is going on around you and behind you, but try to let things work themselves out. In most cases, once each player gets in their "shot", they will be satisfied that everything is even and will then get back into the play. If they don't, you can always blow the play down and send them both into the box. Eventually all of the players will realize that they won't be able to intimidate opponents into taking stupid penalties and they will then try to keep up with the play themselves.

The most important thing to remember about this advice is that you can keep control of the emotional climate of a game by calling infractions which occur around the puck. And games which get out of hand usually do so because of emotional explosions. Keep the emotions in control, and you keep the game in control. 

Readers' Comments
You have a great website but I have to disagree with some of your comments about a certain article.
The article is called, "Keep Your Eyes on the Puck."  I have been involved in the game of hockey for some 30 years and have been an official for about 20 of those years and that statement could not be further from the truth.  For the past 5 years I have been the Referee-in-Chief, as well I was involved with a group of men who were gathered together to put the Mentorship program at a National level.
I am a senior official who started the shadow program as well as the mentorship program in St Albert and the thing we teach our young officials is not to worry about the puck as it is more important to watch the whole ice surface while using your peripheral vision to glance at where the puck is once and a while.  By watching the puck, you will miss what is happening away from the puck.  We tell our young officials to put their head on a swivel so that they can see the whole ice surface.  The program revolves around knowing the rules, position, as well as the safety of the players. 
The only time when we tell our young officials to watch the puck is when the play is at the net and they had better be there so that nothing can escape their eyesight.  By putting your head on a swivel, and watch everything around you, the puck will eventually come into your sight.  Also, by watching the puck is why referee's miss penalties and the fans, coaches, and players become upset with the referee.
I think before you start making comments like those you did, please check the procedure manual as I have never found anywhere in there that the referee should be watching the puck.  A linesman's job is to help by being an extra set of eyes so they have to make sure they are watching the puck more than anyone else in the arena as well as for major infractions.
I thank you for your time reading this article.  I would love to hear what your response will be in regards to this email. 
Dean Ziegle
Publisher's Comments
Thank you for your feedback, Dean. I think we are both saying the same thing, but from different perspectives. 

For example, I agree that, especially at the younger levels of play, a referee should always scan the entire ice surface and keep strict control over the play. But keeping strict control over the play at the younger levels means something entirely different at the older levels. 

Strictly speaking, "all" infractions should be called and dealt with accordingly at all levels of play. However, when you get into the midget and junior levels, there is a lot of nonsense that goes on in the game that is in the "grey area". At the younger levels they would be called penalties, but at the upper levels if you begin to call all of the borderline plays at the beginning of the game, you will find that you have to call "everything" all game long, leading to an endless parade to the penalty box and an increasing level of frustration. It is almost impossible to "teach" a young official how to control the emotional component of a game. A referee "learns how to control the emotional component" with experience and, unfortunately, it is usually learned best from difficult games that you would like to forget.

Senior officials will usually "follow" the play up the ice from behind at the midget and junior levels. By doing this, they keep all of the action in front of them and are able to see everything that happens as the play is moving up the ice.  However, as the action gets closer to the net it is imperative that the referee know where the puck is at all times. 

Often it is merely a fraction of an inch that determines whether a goal is scored or not. At other times, a goaltender will get his hand over the puck only to have it swatted out of his glove. The referee must see the goaltender with his hand on puck in order to blow the play down. 

Inexperienced referees often try to see what is going on in front of the net, behind the net, at the side of the net, in the corners and at the blue line while the puck is around the goal. Their head is lashing back and forth as they try to prove that they can see everything. At this time, however, the puck must become the top priority. 

If you miss a goal or don't see the puck going into the net, or you miss a crosscheck to the head because you had your attention on the players yapping at each other at the blue line, you are going to be in a lot more hot water than if you focus directly on the puck until it is out of danger.

As a person who has been involved in some way with hockey for over 40 years, I agree with everything you said in your reply with respect to what you tell "young" officials. However, if they want to become "old, seasoned" officials, they must learn a few tricks in order to manage games at the senior levels. I also agree with what Mr. Dave Newell stated in his interview elsewhere on this web site. 

Newell stated, "I really think that the top referees are born with that special something which makes them stand out. And after so many years of traveling around and scouting, I can tell in my gut when I spot someone with those special qualities which makes him an excellent prospect as a professional referee in the National Hockey League."

I am of the opinion that the top referees have learned how to "see without seeing", "know without knowing" and "control without controlling". Knowing when to watch the puck and when to watch the rest of the play is one of those "qualities". A good referee sees all and knows all. He just exercises his judgement as to when to make the call. Most of the time when fans and coaches think that a referee missed an infraction, they are wrong. The referee often saw the infraction but chose, for whatever reason, to let it pass by.

There is nowhere in any procedure manual where you will find it mentioned that the definition of a slash or a trip is different in atom or peewee from a slash or a trip in midget or junior. Manuals always tell you to call all infractions. Yet, we all know that senior referees often "let a lot go". It is what people refer to as "letting them play the game". Game management is something that is learned from experience. Referees who do not learn well do not last. And game management is, for the most part, managing the emotions of the players.

Thank you again for your comments and continued success in developing the referees in your charge.  It sounds as if they have a good teacher. I hope the mentorship program is well received across the country. We need something like this.

Robert Kirwan: Publisher



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