Insight from an Amateur Hockey Referee

Filed under Hockey (Ice/Field), Tips and Insights

I saw this article while browsing around for hockey refereeing information. I thought it was very insightful, so I decided I’d share it here. It’s a two part article, but the “good” stuff (from the learning referee’s perspective) is on Part 2, printed below. Part 1 is interesting, too, from a storytelling point of view. If you want to see Part 1, go to the Tonawanda News page here. The referee writing is John Hopkins, who is an editor of the Tonawanda News in addition to an experienced amateur referee.

Source: Tonawanda News

I’ve spent 25 years — more than half my life — as an amateur hockey referee. It’s been a rewarding, but sometimes frustrating, experience. Last week I shared with you some stories from my time on the ice and explained some rule differences. Today, is part two and I’d like to begin with:

Six things all parents, coaches, spectators and players should know about USA Hockey referees:

1. We don’t write the rules, we only enforce them. Like you, many of us don’t like USA Hockey’s automatic offside rule, which requires an immediate whistle as soon as the puck crosses the blue line, if a player if offside. (In the NHL, players can “tag up” and play continues as long as no one on the offside team touches the puck.)

2. Some of our referees are still in high school. They are learning the game from a different perspective. Cut them some slack. You wouldn’t want ME to yell at YOUR 14-year-old like that, would you?

3. Yes, the prescription on my glasses is current.

4. Rules are different between USA Hockey, the NHL, NCAA and Canada. We’re enforcing the rules of USA Hockey. That’s not the rule in the NHL? Your 10-year-old isn’t in the NHL. Speaking of rules, USA Hockey updates/tweaks its rule book every two years. It evolves with the game.

5. We’re not out to “get” your team. Amazing as it seems, we don’t care who wins; we just want to call as fair a game as we can and get all participants off the ice in one piece.

6. Support the referee’s call; don’t scream bloody murder if a call is botched. Young players hear everything their parents and coaches say, and they are often wrong because they don’t know the nuances in the rules. If the adults are screaming, the kids get hyper. I’ve seen a lot of players play better after the loud-mouthed coach or parent has been ejected from the building.

That being said, there are some things I’ve seen as a referee that have made me laugh out loud.

Just a few weeks ago, I refereed a Pee Wee game (typically sixth and seventh graders) between Cazenovia Park and South Buffalo. Many of the participants were classmates. A player from South Buffalo scored three goals — a hat trick – and parents sent their hats to the ice. A player from Caz Park scooped up some hats and handed them to me. “Here, throw them in the garbage,” he said with an impish grin.

Several years ago at a tournament, a Canadian team’s coach questioned a ruling, and I explained the USA Hockey rule. Expressing his frustration with the cultural clash, he started to mock the explanation. “Well, maybe we don’t like the 55-yard line,” I retorted, referring to the Canadian Football League field.

A few minutes later, I skated by the bench and heard him say, “What’s wrong with three downs?”

I’ve also seen some truly ugly things at hockey games, too. Things that make you shake your head in disbelief. Things that make you want to turn away in disgust.

But enough about the unruly parents.

Earlier this season a midget-aged (17 and under) player from Amherst skated full-tilt into a goalie from Rochester, igniting an all-out brawl, similar to last Friday’s Islanders-Penguins NHL game. My partner and I handed out 18 game misconducts. A couple of players received four game misconducts each.

About 10 years ago, in another midget level game, a player collided with a goaltender despite his best efforts to avoid the collision. Both tumbled to the ice. One of the netminder’s defensemen proceeded to jump on the player, grabbed him by the back of the helmet and drove his head face-first into the ice. Thankfully, the facemask protected the player from injury.

In that situation, the offending player was assessed a match penalty for attempt to injure. This requires the referees to write a report and send it to the area’s referee-in-chief. The player is suspended for 30 days, unless a hearing is held, which could result in a longer or shorter sentence. The referees involved in the incident typically must attend these hearings. Needless to say, we’re not fond of – but we do assess – match penalties.

Overall, serving as a referee has been very rewarding. I was honored to be the referee who dropped the ceremonial puck before the first varsity girls hockey game in the history of Nichols School. I have officiated state playoff games. I’ve officiated multiple-overtime games in local tournaments. They have all been memorable.

And I’ve occasionally been thanked by parents for calling a good game.