Impact penalties are relatively easy to define, and they are also relatively easy to identify. Everyone who watches hockey realizes that there are certain infractions that have more impact on the game than others. Some of the impact penalties are included in the definition because of their severity. These are things like checking from behind, high hits, roughing after the whistle, and cross-checking. Others are included because they have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the game. For example, tripping an opponent on a break-a-way and grabbing the puck in the crease.

It therefore becomes the main job of a referee to focus on those infractions that have the most impact, rather than on those infractions that will have no affect on the outcome of the game. By calling these impact penalties early in the contest, and by maintaining that standard all the way through, the referee will find it much easier to manage a safe and fair game for all involved.

Parents and coaches would be wise to try to look at every play through the eyes of the referee, who as we stated before, is one of the only persons in the building who has absolutely no vested interest in the outcome of the game. He will look at a play and determine the impact that play will have on the game. If he decides that it has minimal impact, he will not make the call. There is no point in getting upset because the referee failed to call a tripping penalty which occurred at the red line among a crowd of players, and then seconds later called a cross checking penalty against the same the other team. How often have we seen coaches and fans “losing it” on the referee for this reason? They will yell and scream about the referee for not calling the tripping and will often go on and on with this abuse for a long time after the infraction took place.

In the above example, the referee is merely doing his job by focusing on the penalties that have the most impact on the game.

In determining the ‘impact’ of an infraction, a referee will usually look at four things. He will examine the amount of force used by the person committing the infraction. For example, a slash with a great deal of force is more of an impact than a light tap on the side of the leg.

He will then examine the location of the contact. Again, a light tap on the head will be considered an impact infraction deserving of a penalty, while the same tap on the side of the leg won’t.

He will also closely examine the intent of the player committing the infraction. Did the player intend to commit the violation?

Finally, he will determine if the infraction had any outcome on the game. This doesn’t just mean that the infraction would prevent or create a scoring opportunity. It could also mean that it would cause the other player or team to react in a retaliatory fashion that could lead to problems for the rest of the game. For example, if you allow a player to punch his opponent in the head, you are sending the wrong message to both teams.

As you read through the remainder of the book, you will come across the terms “game management” and “impact penalties” often. The rules of the game are written in the book, but they enforcement of the rules is the responsibility of a referee who must be able to manage the game well and make instantaneous judgment calls on the impact of not only any infraction, but also on the impact of his call or non-call.

The referee may not have a vested interest in the outcome of the game, but his job may be the most difficult of all.