do I start?
could devote an entire book to the on-ice official in hockey.
it to say that hockey referees are just about the most misunderstood,
harassed officials in sport. There is arguably no other sport where all
participants, including fans, turn so quickly on the person who is
enforcing the rules of play. Sure, you can always find examples of
officials in football, basketball, baseball and soccer being verbally
abused, but these are mostly isolated cases and result in very severe
repercussions for the abuser.
hockey, however, you see examples of verbal abuse of officials at
virtually every single game, at just about every single level of play.
Whether it is a coach, a player or a fan complaining about a penalty call
or a non-call, it is something that has become so much an integral part of
the game that people have come to expect it. In fact, there are many
hockey games during which the full attention and focus of a coach or fans
are entirely on what the referee is doing and not on the players at all.
What is amazing about this type of activity is that people with average
intelligence seem to think that this type of behaviour is acceptable.
always laugh when I see a fan or a coach begin to get “on a referee”
about a penalty. I imagine the same person being stopped by a police
officer for speeding. I can see that person yelling at the police officer
for stopping him and complaining to the officer about letting others get
off scott free. I can also imagine him telling the police officer that he
should be out catching criminals instead of picking on him for speeding.
Only a complete idiot would do something so self-destructing as yell at a
police officer that is giving him a ticket. And yet, they do it all the
time to the referee in hockey.
in examining the role of the on-ice official, we will take a close look at
referees and linesmen and try see if we can make some sense out of the
role they play in the game of hockey.
A SAFE AND FAIR GAME
hockey official’s main role is to provide for a safe & fair
environment in which to play the game. He is there to enforce the rules.
We must remember that the referee did not make up the rules. He is merely
there to enforce the rules. Furthermore, he is being paid to enforce those
rules and if he fails to do so, he will lose his job. It is unfair of
coaches, players and parents to complain about the penalties being called
by a referee, because if they are not called properly, he may suffer
interpretation of what constitutes a “safe and fair” hockey game is
the root of most problems. What is safe and fair at the junior level may
not be so at the Novice level. In fact, what is safe and fair when two
players collide on the ice may not be considered safe and fair when two
completely different players collide. It is all in the eyes and
interpretation of the official. It would be nice if things could be black
and white as in determining how much over the speed limit a person was
driving, but that is not the case. To further complicate the matter, your
definition of what is safe may be stricter than that of the referee. This
is usually always the case when it involves your own son or daughter.
Parents tend to be a little less concerned when it is someone else’s
child or a child on the other team.
thing is for certain. A safe environment is only accomplished by enforcing
the playing rules and penalizing those who are guilty of playing outside
the rules that have been developed over decades of hockey history. You
don’t create a save environment by ignoring the rules, and yet it is
with this very point that referees are their own worst enemy.
have all witnessed hockey games where the referee in charge has let a lot
of infractions go unpunished. Hooking, slashing, holding, tripping,
elbowing, roughing penalties often are allowed without calls, especially
at the upper levels of play. There are many reasons why penalties might
not be called, but this simply causes confusion among players and fans
alike, resulting in a great deal of emotional unrest. Some of the most
common reasons for not calling penalties are:
- The referee simply did not see the
- The referee felt it was an accident and
there was no intent.
- The referee felt that it did not result
in any team gaining an advantage.
- The referee felt that is was not severe
enough to give the other team a power play.
- The referee felt that it was not in the
best interests of game management to call the penalty at the time.
- The referee may have been told by his
supervisor not to call many of the so-called minor infractions.
- The referee has learned that he will
generate fewer complaints if he doesn’t call penalties than if he
calls everything he sees.
Knowing when to call and when not to call
penalties is a skill that a referee develops with experience and age. In
addition, all referees have a certain style of their own. When I was
coaching, I would always checked to see who was assigned to referee the
game before giving my players the final pre-game pep talk. I would then be
prepared to give the players advice on what they were likely to get away
with during the game. Some referees will allow you to do anything as long
as it is not in retaliation, or after the whistle. This means you can be a
bit more aggressive. Others call ‘everything’, so you have to be
careful. Other referees try to ‘even-up’ penalties. This means that if
you are on a power play, you must stay absolutely away from the opposition
or you may end up on the receiving end of a penalty called to eliminate a
Many people feel it is unfortunate that the
National Hockey League has gone to the two-man referee system. This has
taken away a lot of the individuality that you once found among
professional referees. There were both good and bad points in the old
system, but at least there was some colour. Today, there is very little
pressure on any one referee since both officials share the responsibility
for decisions. And to take even more pressure off, you have the video goal
judge for close calls. The result has been that the NHL has become
extremely strict with respect to calling penalties. In fact, with two
referees calling penalties, and knowing that their supervisors will be in
touch with you immediately if you miss obvious infractions, you tend to
see much more hooking, tripping, holding and slashing at the minor Atom
levels, especially behind the play, than you see in the NHL today.
term FAIR is rather
and Linesmen must approach every game as a new game and should be FAIR in
exercising judgment on penalty calls, off-side calls, icings, etc..
Throughout the course of a game you may see the penalties become
lopsided with one team receiving the majority of the penalty calls.
This sometimes upsets the players (causing them to commit even more
penalties), coaches (causing them to yell at the officials) and parents
who will express their disagreement verbally so every official and other
parent in the arena can hear what they think of the official’s
who are guilty of treating teams unfairly will be investigated and soon
demoted or suspended until they change their attitude. Most officials,
fortunately, take their responsibilities seriously and are do everything
in their power to be fair to all parties.
just for a moment, let us consider why one team may be getting an unequal
share of penalties in a game. There are many teams that deserve to get
more penalties than their opposition. A referee must have enough courage
to administer the rules so that he creates a “safe and fair”
environment for all players. This must remain utmost in a referee’s
mind. He must not be overly concerned with the fact that one team has been
given more penalties than the other.
the end of most games, the number of penalties given to each team is
generally pretty close. Because a referee is allowed to exercise
discretion and is free to interpret activity on the ice, it is usually
pretty easy to have the total penalties come out even. Nevertheless, this
does not mean that when a team is killing a penalty they can ignore the
rulebook. In fact, most teams when killing a penalty go out of their way
to commit infractions, thinking that the referee will be reluctant to put
them down two men. A good referee will likely allow them to get away with
minor infractions while killing penalties, but you can’t ignore things
like high-sticking, cross-checking, vicious slashes and roughing. I have
seen one team receive four consecutive penalties during one two-minute
short-handed situation, simply because the players couldn’t get through
their heads that they were not going to be allowed to get away with those
things. When this happens, the parents and coaching staff usually goes
ballistic, and the players get even more upset. The referee would like to
ignore the infractions, but he can’t. His job is to ensure a safe and
fair environment. It is not a safe environment if you allow a team to get
away with illegal activity just because they have already been given a
penalty. That would be the same as a police officer letting a speeder off
without a ticket simply because he received a ticket earlier that day. A
good police officer would be more upset and more likely to give out the
second ticket because the driver didn’t learn the first time.
CERTIFICATION & TRAINING OF OFFICIALS
In an effort to establish some consistency across the
country, both Canada and the Unites States have developed a certification
process for hockey officials.
This process provides for a certain standard
with respect to training and development of officials which must be
followed across the country. However, when you try to have one-size fits
all system, there are bound to be problems. These problems usually appear
on the ice.
of the main problems is that just about anyone can get their introductory,
or Level 1 and 2 certificates. All you have to do is read the rulebook and
be able to answer multiple-choice questions. In fact, you may not even
need to demonstrate an ability to skate to get the certificate. A referee
who is certified, but who is otherwise “unqualified” to officiate, is
soon discovered and will simply not be assigned any games by the
referee-in-chief. Note that I
distinguish between the terms “certified” and “qualified”. I have
seen many referees who were duly “certified”, but who were certainly
not “qualified according to talent or ability” to be on the ice. It
usually doesn’t take very long before the system gets rid of these
happen to be discussing officials in this chapter, but I would be remiss
if I didn’t mention the fact that in the case of coaches, it is even
easier to become certified, and a coach is much harder to get rid of when
it is discovered that he is “unqualified as an individual human being”
to be behind the bench.
DECLINE IN NUMBER OF OFFICIALS IS ALARMING
One alarming statistic with respect to
referees is the fact that the total number of referees
has pretty much remained static for a long period of time, despite
the fact that the number of registered hockey players is rising. What’s
more disturbing about this is that the number of games being played during
a typical season has increased dramatically in recent years. There are
more tournaments, more games in the season, longer playoffs and more
exhibition games. Yet the number of officials has remained static. This
means that referees are doing more games per season and senior officials
have little or no time to mentor or supervise young referees.
What should be of most concern to hockey
organizations in both Canada and the United States, however, is in the
area of the number of certified officials who are registered beyond the
entry level. Recent statistics indicate that as many as 75% of all hockey
officials are certified at one of the two lowest levels. This means that
only 25% of officials have bothered to proceed to the higher levels.
This can be an indication of a couple of
things. First of all, it could mean that most referees are satisfied with
the entry level. However, this is not likely, since referees who stick
with it for any length of time would at least progress to the intermediate
levels in order to be certified for playoff games and games at the older
What the statistics are most likely indicating
is that there is a tremendous drop-out rate among hockey officials. Those
young hockey officials are getting certified and before they have time to
progress to higher levels, they decide that it isn’t worth the abuse
from the coaches, players and fans and decide to quit.
Unfortunately, since supervisors must have at
least an intermediate level of certification in order to be responsible
for developing young officials, it is an indication of trouble in the
future. With so few senior qualified referees available for the higher age
categories, they will be too busy handling games to look after mentoring
younger officials. With a lack of training and support, the drop out rate
among officials will begin to accelerate and get even worse.
The thing that hockey administrators must take
into consideration is that since entry level officials are generally
assigned to Novice and Atom categories to gain experience, it just may be
the result of the negative influence of coaches, players and parents of
the youngest divisions of hockey who are driving officials out of the
game. This is a serious situation that is consistent with the fact that by
the end of Peewees, a large number of players have had enough of the game
as well. Therefore, not only do we have to examine the reasons why players
leave the game at an early age, we also have to examine why officials
leave the game in the same time period.
It must be noted that in a Minor Hockey or
Amateur Hockey game, the on-ice officials (Referee & Linesmen) are the
ONLY PROFESSIONALS on the ice. While this is something that officials
should be proud of, it also means that they have a personal responsibility
to uphold a higher standard that is worthy of the designation, both on and
off the ice.
WHAT MAKES AN OFFICIAL LOOK PROFESSIONAL?
it comes to the question of professionalism, there are several things that
give an official that special image. The following are in no particular
order of importance.
of all is confidence. You can sense a referee who is confident. He makes
his calls clearly and without hesitation. He is the type of person who
gives the impression that he knows the rules and has had enough experience
to handle any situation that comes up.
is communication. An official who is able to stay calm in the face of
pressure and communicate with the coaches and players at all appropriate
situations throughout a game is one who clearly looks professional. He is
able to develop a rapport with the players and coaches in order to command
respect and reduce the number of verbal complaints that occur during the
third consideration is appearance. An official must make sure that his
skates, pants, shirt, helmet and visor are clean at all times. Some
officials purchase dozens of white laces each year so that they can throw
away laces that get scuffed or cut up. Others carry two sets of sweaters,
especially when on the road; in case they get blood on one shirt and
cannot wash it before the next game.
Fitness is the fourth consideration. An athletic body build in a referee
tends to indicate to observers that this is a special game. It also allows
the observers to automatically feel confident that this official is in
good shape and will be able to be in the proper position to make the
off-ice presence rates being mentioned as the fifth consideration. This
includes the way an official appears when he enters the arena. Is the
person dressed up, or is the person in jeans. While clothes don’t make
the person, they certainly create an impression. Also, if a young official
develops a reputation of being a party animal or a problem kid, then the
chances of this official gaining the respect of the players, coaches and
fans is difficult. The fact that others are watching them and expect them
to adhere to a higher standard of behaviour in public than the average
person is something for officials to remember when they are out with their
friends in the evenings. You are a professional. While you may not think
much about it, you are a figure of authority to many people, in much the
same way as a police officer or a teacher. If you act in a disgraceful or
disrespectful manner away from the rink, that reputation will follow you
on to the ice. An official must always be concerned about his off-ice
presence and image.
on the ice is number six. An official who is in position to make the
proper calls will look far more professional than an official who is
behind the play or skating all over the ice. The official who is in
position will be able to defend his decision more easily because he
usually has the best view in the arena to make the call. Even if he
isn’t doesn’t have a perfect view, others will assume he does simply
because of his positioning.
the least of the considerations is our seventh – attitude! An official
who shows hustle, determination to make the right calls, and enthusiasm on
the ice, will gain the respect of all participants much more than an
official who is lazy or who thinks that he is too good for the caliber of
hockey. We see this far too often in minor hockey. Because of the lack of
qualified officials, it is sometimes necessary to ask a referee to handle
a game that he may feel is well below his capability. The official will
accept the assignment, but it is obvious to everyone that his heart
isn’t in the game. He shows this in his skating, his positioning, and
his general attitude. Good referees will realize that when young players
see a senior official on the ice it makes them feel special. After all,
how often will a ten year old get to be this close to a twenty-five year
old referee who usually does Junior A games? While no one will likely be
able to put their finger on it, there is an elevated level of pride when a
young team is on the ice with a senior official. This means that the
referee should demonstrate an elevated attitude towards the game. He
should hustle and show that he is glad to be in the game and definitely
treat the young players with the utmost respect. Imagine what this will do
to motivate the players. Imagine what this will do to the parents who will
be satisfied that they have a well-qualified referee doing their game.
Attitude may be seventh in this list, but it is undoubtedly one of the
most distinguishing features that make the difference between good and
eighth item in this list deals with the way an official makes signals.
When you make clear, crisp signals so that everyone in the arena can see
the call, you convey that you know what you are doing and that you feel
confident in your decision. Watch the referee in your next game. See how
he signals his calls. This is a telltale sign of his level of
professionalism. Admittedly, some people like to “showboat” when they
make their signals. There is a fine line between being professional and
being a show-off. You can usually tell the difference.
while this next item is the ninth on the list, it is one of the most
important. The way an official handles himself in pressure situations is
critical. A professional will stay calm and take control of matters in a
thoughtful, methodical manner. When players are pushing each other,
coaches and fans are screaming and shouting abusive comments, and your
linesmen have been running themselves ragged keeping players apart, it can
seem like the end of the world for the referee who is standing out there
all alone, responsible for restoring order and getting the game back under
control. A good referee
realizes that in situations such as this, ‘time’ is your best friend.
A professional referee will allow the linesmen to separate the combatants
by getting them to their benches, allow the coaches and parents to yell
themselves out, and calmly record numbers in the notepad that he should be
carrying around in his pocket. The important thing to remember in all of
this is that players usually do not want to fight. They will put on a big
show as long as they know there is someone around who will step in and
protect them. If they know the linesmen are tied up with another battle,
players will usually merely skate around and look tough, but they don’t
want to risk getting beat up and looking bad in front of their friends. A
good referee knows this and often all he has to do is skate close to them,
shout a few distinct commands, issue threats about misconducts, and the
players will separate. When the referee pulls out the ‘book and
pencil’ the players know that they are in trouble. They know that every
number will be written down and the penalties will be caught.
Game management skills are so very important when
determining the level of professionalism of a referee. Point number ten is
all about having a great “Feel for the game”. A professional referee
will understand the emotions of the players as the game progresses. He
knows what infractions can affect the outcome of a game and which
infractions should not be called. Game management is about consistency.
Not only during the game, but from game to game. Good coaches will always
check to see who has been assigned to referee the game before giving their
players the final pep talk. A referee who is consistent and who manages
the game well may be yelled at from time to time, but make no mistake
about it, coaches appreciate a well-managed game and do respect the
referees who have superior ability.
GOOD REFEREES ARE BORN, NOT MADE
can usually pick out a naturally, gifted hockey player just by watching
him on the ice for a few shifts. The same can be said about a gifted
referee. To the trained eye, a talented referee can be spotted in a few
minutes. He demonstrates all of the characteristics described above and
has a real presence on the ice. He looks like he belongs there.
the fans and coaches may yell at him. Sure, he may have some bad games and
find himself under fire from time to time. But he has that special quality
which places him on a level far above the norm. For the sake of the game,
we must do all we can to discover these referees at a young age. We must
do what ever we can to nurture their skills and encourage them to
continue. Without these gifted referees, the future of our game is in
jeopardy. We can’t play without them.