Our readers are encouraged to send in their questions. We will try to answer them the best we can. Remember, the best way to gain knowledge is to ask questions. Also remember that there is no such thing as a silly question.

Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle

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Question: I would like to know what kind of training referees receive. I know they all have to pass a test at the beginning of the year, but after the season starts, what do they do to improve. Players practice all the time. Is there any comparison with referees?

Answer: Once the season starts, officials generally develop through the guidance offered by supervisors. The problem we are finding today is that there are so few senior officials around that they are too busy doing games to "coach" or "mentor" young officials. This will come to haunt us in the very near future. While experience is the best teacher, the pressures associated with refereeing hockey today are forcing so many good young officials to quit before they reach their prime. And without adequate supervision and coaching, young officials are going to take longer to reach their prime. It is a problem which must be addressed by associations. More money is going to have to be provided to pay for good supervisors. A developing referee should be seen at least once a month by a supervisor.
Question: It is very confusing for players when one game one referee lets things go and the next game we get penalties? Why is is so hard for referees to be consistent?

Answer: The game of hockey is one of the most complex games in the world. Because it involves so many emotions, and because judgement is involved in refereeing games, it is almost impossible to achieve perfect consistency. The rules are pretty clear, but it is the interpretation of the referee that counts. He must take into consideration so many factors in a split second. However, referee associations across the country are trying to become more consistent when it comes to abuse of officials and impact penalties. There is a long way to go, but hopefully everyone is moving in the right direction on this matter.

Question: Is it a good idea for a referee to be the same age as the players?

Answer: Usually, unless it is a the higher professional levels, you will not see a referee who is less than two years older than the players involved in the contest. At times you will see a linesman who is the same age as the players, but this is not done very often. There is something about age that commands a bit of respect to begin with, so being older than the players gives a referee a slight edge. 

Question: What happens if a referee gets injured and neither one of the linesmen is qualified to do a game at that level?

Answer: The old adage, "The show must go on" is really applicable in this situation. When assigning referees and linesmen, a referee-in-chief usually tries to make sure that at least one of the linesmen is capable of refereeing the game if necessary. Very seldom will you find both linesmen incapable of refereeing. If they are qualified to line a game, it is implied that they are qualified to referee as well. The reason they may not have refereed any games may be more due to experience than anything else. When an injury does occur to the referee, the most senior and experienced linesman usually handles the refereeing and the other does the lines. Sometime they revert to a two-man system.

Question: When is a referee in a conflict of interest?

Answer: A referee who takes his role seriously may find himself in a situation where there is a "perception of conflict", but in reality, no referee is every in a conflict of interest. The referee is assigned to do a job. It doesn't matter who the teams are and it doesn't matter who the players are. The referee is there to administer the rules. If a person commits an infraction, a penalty must be handed out. That being said, a referee-in-chief will usually try to keep referees away from situations in which the "perception of a conflict" may create problems for the official. For example, assigning a parent to referee a game in which his son is playing is something that we try to avoid. Usually it is not to the advantage of the son's team to have his father refereeing anyway. In order to make sure that noone can accuse him of favouritism, the father would likely be must harder on the son's team. If you find yourself assigned to a game in which there may be such a perception of a conflict, just remember that you are a professional with a very serious responsibility and carry out your assignment in the same manner as always.

Question: What is the most frustrating thing about being a referee?

Answer: There are many things that are frustrating about the position, but for the most part if you understand the nature of the game and try not to take things personally, you will get along well and maintain your composure. However, one of the most frustrating things about refereeing is that you have to put up with complaining and crying by players and coaches when you call penalties. They know they committed an infraction, but they will blame it on the other player hitting them first, or complain that you didn't call a penalty on the other player, etc. Sometimes you just want to hold up your hands to your ears and scream. Another thing that is frustrating for referees who call the game properly is that the players may be accustomed to a much more lenient style of officiating and be allowed to get away with a lot of stuff that you will not tolerate. 

Question: Do linesmen get a chance to referee at the higher levels like Junior A and the O.H.L?

Answer: Some people just want to line, and others want to referee. As you get into the higher categories, officials either line or referee. For example, in the Junior A and O.H.L., the referees only referee. The linesmen are only lining games. However, the linesmen may referee at the Junior A level in order to develop their skills to a point where they may be considered for an appointment to a referee position at some time.  Nevertheless, there are many linesmen who have been lining games for dozens of years and have no desire to referee.

Dave Marchand asks:
I am a 3rd year hockey official. This year in the Level I clinic they said that the minor hockey eliminated the match penalty signal. I would like to know if this is just in the Prince George Minor Hockey Association or in all of Canada.

Answer: Various minor hockey associations have the ability to implement different rules or regulations based on their board of directors. The Match Penalty rule and signal are part of the Canadian Hockey Association and are enforced throughout Canada. The signal may have been eliminated in your area but the signal still exists and is used in other parts of the country. The majority of refs rarely use the signal, even in places where  it still exists. I myself have never given the signal - but I have given a lot of Match Penalties, and my area still has the match penalty signal implemented. Warren Kirwan.

Thank you for the response. If I have any other questions about refereeing, I will be sure to ask you because you seem to really know your stuff. Dave


I'm a referee out of the Hockey Manitoba area and I have a question for you. Player seven from the black team drops his stick in his defending zone. Play moves out of black zone into white's zone. On the way out, seven black legitimately retrieves a replacement stick from a player on his player's bench. Play then moves back down the ice into black's defending zone. Seven black drops the replacement stick he received legally at his players bench and picks up his other stick still lying on the ice. Is this a legal play and if not, what is the penalty to be assessed? I have been told that this is not a legal play but have not found any thing in the rule book to tell me otherwise. Your help in this matter is most appreciated. 

Tim Wagner

Hi Tim:

I will do some more research into this one, but here is how I would call it:

As soon as he dropped his original stick, he was implying that it was broken and therefore, an illegal stick. When he picks it up again, as far as I know, he is playing with an illegal stick and thus, would receive two minutes for such.

If the player or his coach complained, I would simply tell them "point blank" that my only other recourse is to give the player a "Gross Misconduct" for making a travesty of the game since he was trying to play with two different sticks. I would ask the player and coach which penalty they preferred me to call.

That would end the discussion.

I think it would fall within the "equipment rules" which state that you cannot play with two sticks at once, even if you are only holding one at a time, but I like the "Gross Misconduct" fall-back.

Hope this helps.

Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle

Not that I think it has any bearing on the situation, but the stick was not broken, he simply lost procession of it and it lay on the ice. This situation happened in an actual game and the player was penalized by the referee. As a spectator, I went to my rule book to find it but was not able to find any mention of this situation. Thanks for your help. 



That was the correct call. When you leave you stick on the ice and get a replacement from the bench, you cannot retrieve your original stick until the next stoppage of play. It is just as if it is broken at that point. If he would have gone back and picked up the stick before getting another one from the bench, it would have been fine.

Thanks for your interest.

Robert Kirwan

I recently experienced a situation that is confusing.
It's the deciding game of a series in overtime.
The play is in our end and the puck is shot from the corner at the net and is made contact by a high stick from the opposing player. The puck then hits our goaltender in the shoulder and drops behind him and rolls into the net. The referee immediately rules no goal and signals a high stick made contact. Then he asks his lines men and changes his ruling for the goal to count. The game is over and the series is decided. His explanation is that the puck after making contact with the opposition high stick then hit our goalie which nullified the high stick call. I thought the rule stated possession and control. How could the goalie have control of the puck if it merely bounced off of him? When I questioned him he said that the goalie is the key to the scenario. What do you think that means? 
The referee "blew" the call.
The goalie had "possession" because he was the last one to "touch" the puck, but he did not have control. For example, if the puck would have rebounded off the goalie and onto the stick of a player from the team high sticking the puck, the play would still have been blown down because the goalie did not have control of the puck.
An experienced referee will not be too quick to blow the whistle after a high stick. He will wait until someone shows control of the puck. However, if the puck merely deflects off a defending player, that is not control.
The goal should have been disallowed and the game continue.
It's too bad for your team to lose on a call like that.
An experienced referee will also make sure that a "deciding" goal is not scored on a controversial play such as that. If there is any doubt, you disallow the goal and make the teams decide it more convincingly.
For a detailed explanation of the rule, go to the following link, which is part of our online book.
Hope this helps.
Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle
l  am looking for information on how l go about reporting  a referee and linesman. We have in the pasted experience bad refereeing, but these guys clearly need to be evaluated. I understand many different teams/division are upset with the quality of officiating in Welland Ontario, but is someone doing anything about it. The game played last night in Welland was one of the worst games l have ever seen.Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt
 If you have any information on where l can go to put in a official compliant, l would appreciate it. One of the parents happen to have their video camera there,so the complete game has been caught on tape. This tape should support the fact that this referee and lineman's should be evaluated and discilnped for there actions on the ice.
 Kim Vandermeer
Minor- Bantam AAA Guelph Storm
The first thing you must do is find out the name of the Referee-in-Chief of your league. Your coach will know his/her name or you can call up the President of your MInor Hockey Association and get the name of the person in charge as well.
The next thing you do is prepare a detailed, well-written letter outlining your concerns. Address it to the Referee-in-Chief and ask for a meeting. Do not make personal attacks or comments about the referee in question. Be as factual and objective as you can and state your concerns. Also, state what you would like done about the situation. Try to offer constructive suggestions. It will get you closer to your ultimate objective of improving the officiating. In most cases, referees and linesmen simply need some good coaching. In some cases, they should be removed from duty. I'm not sure what your situation is at this time.
Make sure you send a copy of the letter to the President of your Minor Hockey Association.
I hope this is helpful.
Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle
Hi there,

I have a question for you. If a team loses a game, and the referee and linesman had been swearing at the players, is it possible for the losing team to call the game? Thanks.


If the league is a reputable organization, and if they have done their due diligence in appointing and training their officials, they won't ever have a situation like the one you have described. However, be it noted that if the losing team's coaching staff and players are swearing at the officials, then sometimes you have to speak the language that they understand. Referees and linesmen often become the scapegoats for coaches and players who have no talent or class.
To answer your question...no

Robert Kirwan
Publisher, After The Whistle

I don't know where to go for help.  On February 22, 2003 my son played in an Atom/Peewee select hockey game. He was checked to the boards and knocked down. While he was down he was hit in the head deliberately by another child. He didn't stay down on the ice, but got up slowly and went to his bench. The child who hit him only got a 2 minute minor. He should have been kicked out of the game. My son could have been seriously hurt. The coaches on my sons team did nothing. If myself and another mother didn't complain, then it would have just been pushed aside. A protest went in about the game but I feel its not enough. We played this team before and the was another of our players attacked on the ice. In that game the child was suspended. This isn't the type of hockey we want our children in. Also, when we did complain to our coach about what happened, we were told if we didn't like it, then we could toss in the uniforms. My son loves hockey and I want him to keep on enjoying it, but how safe is he if we have a team as dirty as this one and a referee that will let them of with this kind of  roughness. Please help me out because I don't want anyone on his team to be attacked on ice again.

A very concerned mom,
Ellen Squires

Thank you for your question. This is obviously a very serious matter and one which should be cause for concern. Let me see if I can help you.

First of all, in our role as Hockey Consultants, if we were asked to provide a report on this situation, we would need to receive a lot of missing information, but I will simply make some assumptions in responding.

The Atom/Peewee Select game is the first problem. If your son is atom-aged, I would strongly suggest that you "hand in the uniform" and tell him to enjoy house league while waiting until he is Peewee-aged. This is not a good age mix and it is hard to imagine how it can be justified. The physical size differential is just asking for trouble.

If he continues to play, about all you can do is send a letter to the league explaining your concerns and advising that you feel the safety of your son is in jeopardy. Identify exactly who you will hold legally responsible if he is injured and state that if it is your opinion that the coach, referee, league supervisors, referee-in-chief, etc. are negligent in doing everything possible to ensure the safety of your son, then serious consequences may follow. Understand that since your son plays on a "Select" team, he may be mysterious cut from the team for some strange reason, but if that happens we can deal with it in another form. I don't think the coach will want to face the consequences of a decision such as that.

It is my opinion, once again as a professional Hockey Consultant, that hockey associations will soon be asked to justify their actions with respect to the safety concerns of parents for their children. 

The sport itself is not very dangerous if played within the rules. Generally speaking, injuries occur when players act outside of the rules and commit "crimes of the game". Unfortunately, many of these infractions or "crimes" are the result of emotions which have been allowed to get out of control.

The main challenge facing hockey organizers today is with the identification of the cause of this abnormal behaviour. Understandably, when players on the ice instigate trouble, they will have to deal with the consequences. However, all too often, the players would be able to control themselves if they weren't being emotionally charged by shouting parents and coaches. Also, referees wouldn't feel as intimidated if there was less yelling and insults going on. There are arenas where parents are behind thick glass and the players are fine.

I would assume that the referee doing your game was not very much older than the players himself. This may not be correct, but usually Atom/Peewee Select games are handled by teenagers or junior officials who are out there to gain experience. They have to learn somewhere. The senior referees are often too busy doing higher calibre games. 

For example, Marty, the editor of After The Whistle, did an Atom game in Toronto recently. He usually handles Junior A and Midget 'AAA' contests, but filled in when the league couldn't get a referee. According to Marty, the behaviour of the parents was "horrible". He kept pulling out his notepad (referees always carry around a note pad for writing down numbers in scrums) writing down comments that were being made by the parents and one of the coaches was worried that he was preparing a report on the game. Actually, Marty was simply writing down exactly what the parents were saying for future reference to be used at our up-coming "Game Appreciation Seminars" for parents. If this is what our young referees have to put up with all season long, it is no wonder that they quit after a couple of years.

A cross-check to the head would normally result in a five-minute penalty and a game misconduct along with a subsequent suspension and a lot of hollering and complaining from fans.  Game misconducts also require written game reports and game reports are often challenged by coaches. Referees must then justify their call to their supervisors who usually are not at the game. For a young referee trying to move up the ladder, every time a coach complains, regardless of the outcome, it is kept on file - mentally if not in written form. Referees soon learn that it is often better not to call a penalty, especially when it is something that calls for an automatic game misconduct (checking from behind, cross-checking to the head, etc.). If you don't call the penalty, it is hard for someone to question you if they didn't see it. You can always say in your opinion no contact was made. This is a defense mechanism used by some officials, although it is more often than not true. A referee cannot call a penalty if he doesn't see the infraction, and we know how good players are at hiding from officials.

I have often recommended that any time a coach complains to the league about a referee, a formal hearing should be held. If the panel supports the referee, and in the vast majority of cases this would be the case, then the coach should be suspended. Each time the suspension should be increased. This would eliminate frivolous complaints and stop the intimidation which is used by coaches who are sore-losers. It is no different from the policy I used as a teacher. If a child complained about a mark I gave him, I gladly agreed to re-evaluate the test on one condition - that I re-mark the entire test and the child accept the new mark - even if it is lower than the original mark. Know what??? I didn't have many children complaining about my marking.

So where does that leave you?

In your case, I would still make it known to the authorities that you are concerned about the safety of your child and of all the other children on the ice. If there are other parents who would sign the letter with you, get their signatures as well. Point out your specific concerns with respect to the violent actions on the ice that are not being penalized. Once the coach, the referee in chief, and the league president have a copy of that letter, they can no longer state that they were unaware of the problem if a serious injury occurs. This may holds them all legally responsible to some degree. I can assure you that the next game your son plays all of the penalties will be called. You and some of your parents may not enjoy the game very much, but penalties will be called and no one will get away with anything.

We have to remember that hockey is, by nature, a very physical game. It will get rough at times and infractions will occur. Penalties will happen and injuries will also occur - some of them serious. I am not saying that you should go running to get the pen and paper every time your son gets touched, however, legitimate safety concerns must be addressed at all levels of play, and we must all accept some responsibility.

As a parent, you now know how I feel about Atom/Peewee Select teams. If your son is Atom-aged and you allow him to play for the team, then as a parent, you must accept some responsibility for allowing him to take part in a game in which his safety may be in jeopardy. We all share responsibility.

I hope the information I have provided you will help a bit.

Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle


Here is the 2nd letter written by Mrs. Squires to provide us with more information on the matter.

My son is Peewee age. He isn't a large child by any means and I never worried about him on the ice. He is a pretty good player and can handle himself on the ice.  I don't mind when he gets a check but I can't tolerate bad hockey. We had trouble with this same team in January when one of their players threw down his gloves and attacked one of our players. In that game the referee threw the child right out of the game. This was the right thing to do. My son is one of the biggest players on his team. Most of the children are 10 and 11 and not so big.  Our arena didn't have enough children for a full peewee team. This team isn't aggressive and are a great bunch of children. They go out to play hockey the way it should be. They aren't taught to play dirty hockey. It is against our arena's rules.

My biggest concern right now is when we play this other team again. They are laughing at us and consider our players wimps (they're words, not ours). How will they treat our players next? I worry about the smaller players on our team. I don't think our hockey committee are as worried as some other parents and I are.  This other team shouldn't be on the ice. They are going to seriously hurt someone else in the future. What are they being taught. As far as I can tell, the players does on ice what they are tauht and this type of hockey has got to stop.

Our hockey committee told us they put in a protest about the game, but I feel they only said it to shut us up. I didn't have a good feeling when I came out of the meeting. They were just there is give us a pat on the back and hope that this is as far as the matter goes.  They told us that nothing could be done about the other team. That didn't go well for me at all. Something must be done. Players can't hit another with their sticks. That is assault. If it is an accident then I can accept it, but it wasn't.  Children like this should be out of the game, so this rest can enjoy it.

When I told the hockey committee the referee's number, they knew who I was talking about. Apparently they had experience with him before. Not all referee's are bad, but this guy should be dealt with.

Another incident happened in the dressing room that night. The parent that was there with me that night was told to get out of the dressing room. The coach screamed at her and then went on to say things about her son in front of everyone. Our committee didn't think this was important. This child played at this arena for 6 years. They didn't care that she pulled her son from the team. After six years they could have shown her a little respect. Can a coach disrespect a parent in front of everyone?  I feel the same.  I was sick at what I saw.  They just didn't care. Now we have an important player on our team gone. My son would be to if he didn't love the game so much. right now I am very upset. These boys deserves better. I know the coaches do a lot for our children but they have to have some respect for everyone. What do they say to the children when we aren't in the dressing room.

There are many mistakes made about what happened that night. Everyone is entitled to some, but it didn't have to go as far as it did. One coach did apologize for not doing what he could and I accept that, but the other one isn't sorry at all. Even loosing his best players didn't matter because he can call someone up.

If it wasn't so late in the season I would have changed arena's but my son will finish the season. He will do his best because that is what we thought him. When he is on the ice nothing else matters but the game and doing his best and doing it the right way.

The are a lot of questions to be answered and I know something can be done, but a lot of parents don't like to make waves. I am one of these parents. Now I am worried. I have a feeling our committee has let us down. I want them to know that they can't just let things go.  I can send you the letter I sent our hockey committee about that night. I can get my friend to send you the letter she wrote. The season is almost over and I want it to remain safe and fun. Please help me.

Thank you,
Ellen Squires



Thank you for providing us with additional information.

From what I can tell, you have done all that you can. Now that you have made everyone aware of your concerns, it is up to them to decide if they want to take any kind of action. Taking no action is an option, but it is one that they now make with full knowledge that "everything is not well" in everyone's mind.

Whenever you deal with matters which are so dependent on judgement, such as calling penalties in a hockey game, it is almost impossible to arrive at a clear cut answer.

You and your son, as well as the other parents on the team will also have to make a choice. Do you continue to play, or do you feel that the safety issue is so important that you will refuse to allow your sons and daughters to play?

Hockey is becoming a complicated game. It can be fun, but it can cause a great deal of frustration for all participants.

Hope everything turns out well for you and your team.

Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle

Great Website!

Just wondering if you could add a section on 'Boarding' and how it differs from 'Checking from Behind'.
Rule 50 from Hockey Canada seems to clearly state that any body check (even a clean check), cross check, elbow, trip, etc. that results in the player being thrown violently into the boards, should be penalized. I'm assuming this rule was put in place to protect the kids by not letting players use the boards as a weapon. I've had one too many 'discussions' with the hockey parents in the stands about this one. Also, I've seen way too many Checks from Behind called as Boarding. And finally, I've seen way too many injuries in Minor Hockey resulting from 'clean' hits where the player is thrown into the boards. The officials seem to be confused about this one.

Alan Poitras

Thanks for your comments about the web site.

I agree with you that Boarding is perhaps one of the most confusing penalties in the book, but it is a call that many experienced referees use for "game management".

For example, the Checking From Behind penalty was created to protect players, but the penalty is too severe in most cases. That is why you will see a lot of checking from behind called "boarding", leaving the player with a two-minute penalty instead of being ejected from the game. A good referee will blow his whistle after a possible check from behind, but will not signal the call until he sees if the player was injured. If the player is not hurt, then the referee may decide to simply call "boarding" to put the guilty party in the "box" instead of kicking a person out of the game. Therefore, boarding is a call that gives a player a penalty, but does not result in the player being tossed. It is a call that is made at the discretion of the referee and if you have an experienced referee, his judgement is usually good.

There are a lot of boarding calls that would have been fine if the hit occured on the open ice. The impact into the boards is what determines the penalty call. On the open ice surface the player would simply go flying across the ice and there would be no call. It would be deemed a good hit. If the referee feels that the players are on the verge of getting out of control, he can call boarding and force the players to ease up on the hits.

When making the call a good referee will try to interpret the "intent" of the player doing the hitting. If it is felt that he was deliberately trying to force his opponent to strike the boards with excessive force, then boarding will most likely be called.

In the end, it really doesn't matter what the call is as long as the guilty player is penalized. A cross check, charge, hit from behind, elbow, etc. could easily be called boarding in many cases. Boarding just seems to be more appropriate if everyone in the rink could hear the "big bang" on the boards or if the referee feels that the guilty party does not deserve to be kicked out of the game. It may be a serious infraction, but just not serious enough to be kicked out of the game.

There's not much else you can say about boarding.

Thank you again for your comments.

Robert Kirwan
After The Whistle Hockey Web Site
Thanks so much for your excellent response. I now finally have an answer to my many questions about checking from behind and boarding. I just wish this info was readily available to the many Minor Hockey Associations (and Hockey Parents) throughout the country. I have 3 boys currently in Minor Hockey, so I've spent my fair share of time at the rink. My original concern was the lack of calls made on instances of boarding, where it appears many  parents and officials are under the impression that any clean check should never be penalized. Unfortunately, one of my 13 year-old sons is currently unable to play due to concussion symptoms, resulting from a boarding incident where there was no call made by the official. The same period saw another player injured the exact same way - again no call.
By the way, my boys love 'testing' each other with the section on your website ' You Make The Call' - keep it up!!
Thanks again


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