Game management is one of those elusive terms that cannot be easily explained. You can always tell when a referee has managed a game well, but even you can’t put your finger on why you feel that way, you just know that the official has played a critical role in the contest without becoming the central focus. In other words, he has recognized that his role was one of a manager of that game.

One of the things that people must realize is that the only people involved in the participation of any game of hockey who do not have a vested interest in their success in the game are the officials. All parties, however, will agree that they want to have a game that is both fair and safe.

The most successful referees are the ones who have developed the ability to establish a “feel for the game”. These officials are able to “read the game” and react to the different faces of the game to maintain a good standard with few problems. They will not call every penalty infraction, but they will call the most significant infractions to ensure that safety and fairness in the game becomes the focus.

During each game, usually near the beginning, players and coaches will attempt to test the referee to determine how he intends to manage the game. This will have a great effect on a team’s style of play. For example, when I was coaching at the minor hockey level, I always found out who the referee was before giving my pre-game speech to the players. It always determined how we were going to approach the game.

Every game has a life of its own. From the opening face-off until the final buzzer, the intensity builds and there are often turning points in the style of play of each team. Officials who manage their games well must ensure that unacceptable infractions are called early in the game as well as in the dying moments. You cannot tighten up near the end. This is why you often see referees call more penalties at the beginning of the game to set the parameters and standard for the players.

The types of infractions assessed by the referee will have a direct bearing on the outcome of a game. For example, there are certain penalties that must be called. These are referred to as ‘Impact Penalties” and will be explained in detail in the next section.

A referee, for example, may be able to allow certain tripping penalties that don’t give a team an outright advantage over the other without affecting his game management, however, checking from behind and high sticking cannot be ignored and must be clamped down all game long. The experienced referees are also able to evaluate how a team has responded to a penalty call and what effect it has had on the flow of the game.

In order to avoid the trap of shouting at a referee to call every single infraction that occurs on the ice, parents and coaches must keep game management in mind. The very best explanation of game management I have ever read uses a bird analogy. For example, if you squeeze the bird too tightly, you can kill it. But if you hold it too loosely, it will get away.

Game management for a referee, therefore, is all about holding on to the game with just the right strength and control. Call too many penalties, especially penalties for infractions which would have very little effect on the outcome of the game, and you can kill it. However, allow major impact infractions to go unpenalized and the game can get away from you. It is a fine balance, and as mentioned above, you can tell when a referee has managed a game well, but you can’t really tell a referee how to do it. You simply must have a “feel for the game” that many people think a person is born with.