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Let’s be honest: Officiating is far from easy. The fact that special skills (skating) are required to simply do our job, especially as the speed of hockey changes, it can make it downright hard.
Toss in the criticisms and “myths” that influence the world of hockey officiating and one can see how the environment can be difficult for the next wave of officials.
We tackled a few different officiating myths a few years back. In this second installment, we’ll take a look at some of the other more common misconceptions about officiating and the game.
Myth 1: “The best officials ‘manage’ the game and recognize some rules don’t need to be enforced.”
This is actually a repeat from the first edition, but it bears repeating. Considering an official’s primary role is to enforce the rules of the game to the best of their ability, this is one myth that becomes fairly easy to bust.
Nowhere in the rulebook, or any other education materials, does it suggest that a particular rule should not be enforced – ever. Yet, some officials feel it is their job to pick and choose what infractions they want to call or they simply ignore certain rules all together.
The problem is it’s impossible to pick and choose which rules to enforce on a consistent basis. Player safety is a MUST and is a critical part of the official’s job. Every official needs to set a tight standard as it relates to dangerous actions. However, in some cases we have officials who do a good job enforcing dangerous fouls but are lax when it comes to other infractions where injury potential is not as great.
In addition, what these officials are missing is the missed hook, hold or interference may have an even greater impact on the outcome of the game, as it often involves a scoring opportunity. After all, the object of the game is to score more goals then your opponent. The reality is an illegal act that takes away a scoring opportunity is no less important to the outcome of the game than an aggressive foul.
Myth 2: “Faceoffs don’t really matter as long as they are fair and even.”
Obviously, having a “fair” faceoff is important, and most people would agree that a faceoff is fair if both players cheating are even (i.e., as long as both forwards are encroaching the same distance, it is even and not a big deal, or both centers are turned slightly and don’t have their sticks in contact with the white portion of the faceoff spot – but they are even, so get the puck down).
However, the rules are there for a reason and, quite simply, are designed to improve the possibility that every faceoff is a fair faceoff.
Hockey takes a tremendous amount of skill, but there is one skill that every single player can do equally well and that is to stand behind a line; that is all that we are asking them to do during a faceoff. So why would we not expect them to do it for every single faceoff and instead settle for less?
If you really want fair faceoffs, establish the expectation from the opening faceoff of every game. Clearly communicate expectations and then hold the players accountable for meeting them. It won’t take players long to adjust, and if you do this at the start of the season and stick with it, no bad habits are formed and after the first few games faceoffs are not a problem.
Myth 3: “As long as the faceoff is fair, the location does not matter.”
Sticking with the faceoff theme, establishing the proper faceoff location is important in every instance, especially now that USA Hockey has gone with the nine-spot faceoff locations. The territorial difference between an end-zone faceoff and a neutral-zone faceoff is significant and can result in an immediate scoring opportunity. The official’s job when play stops is to have an awareness of where play stopped and then understand the rules to determine the proper location. Getting it right does matter to the integrity of the game and the best officials take pride in this area and earn respect as a result.
Myth 4: “The use of electronic scoresheets means officials are not responsible for making sure they are accurate.”
More and more leagues and rinks are using electronic scoring instead of the old hard-copy four-part scoresheet. In addition, more and more instances are occurring where penalties (mainly those involving potential suspensions) are recorded improperly and it creates confusion as to what was actually assessed and what, if any, discipline is required. This creates considerably more work for volunteer team managers and affiliate disciplinary personnel who now have to track the correct information down. To make matters worse, in many cases, the officials are not entered into the electronic scoring either.
The fact is, the use of electronic scoring is still an official document, and the referee has an obligation to ensure its accuracy at the end of every game. Part of that responsibility is to make sure the officials’ names are entered properly. Sure, it may take an extra minute or two to check versus the old hard-copy, but laziness is not a valid excuse for not completing your work.
Myth 5: “There is no avenue to hold officials accountable for misbehavior, so they are allowed to do anything they want.”
We all know that this is not true, but based on some of the stories submitted from the field, sometimes one has to wonder. There are situations where officials do act unprofessionally or inappropriately and there has to be accountability in those instances. Local officials groups or affiliates do have the authority and the responsibility to sanction officials who fall into these categories. We are not talking about missing a call or simply making a mistake. We are talking about situations where the integrity of the game is clearly compromised, such as the use of inappropriate language or using excessive force on a player.
Officials have to be above reproach to effectively do their jobs, and when one fails in this area, action needs to be taken by the proper authority. Turning a blind eye and not addressing it only feeds the misconception and makes all of our jobs more difficult.
So, there you have it. The takeaways from this go-around are pretty clear.