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To Err Is Human, And Part Of The Officiating Profession

By Harry Thompson, 07/27/19, 6:30AM MDT

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Focusing on learning how to accept criticism and using it to become better officials at the Advanced Officiating Symposium

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Newsflash! Officials are human, and they make mistakes. Even at the highest level of the game.

That was the message from some of the most decorated Americans to ever blow a whistle during the opening day at the inaugural USA Hockey Advanced Officiating Symposium.

This three-day celebration of all things in stripes is an opportunity for USA Hockey to thank those grassroots officials for the dedication they’ve shown to the game while helping them improve their skills and understanding of the game. 

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And part of that is learning how to accept criticism and use it to become better officials.

“There’s not one referee who’s ever skated on the ice who has refereed a perfect hockey game. So, don’t leave here thinking that you’re going to work your next game and think that you’re going to be perfect because it’s not going to happen,” said veteran NHL referee Chris Rooney, who is one of only three American referees to work a Stanley Cup Finals.

“And there’s not one participant in the game who expects you to be perfect. You know what they expect you to be? For you to be fair and safe. And that’s my goal every night when I step on the ice. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m just trying to be fair and safe.”

Another dean of the American officiating fraternity, Dennis LaRue, took that to another level with his presentation on Hope vs. Courage when it comes to making calls during a game. He showed numerous clips from NHL games where officials either did or didn’t have the courage to make the right call and the ensuing results.

Sometimes taking an extra second to make the correct call can be the difference between a well-played game and one that turns into an alley fight full of after-the-whistle pushing and shoving.

“It’s better to be slow and right than fast and wrong,” said LaRue, who retired in 2016 after 26 seasons as an NHL referee. “Take a split second longer to get it right. There’s no rule that says you have to make the call right away.”

And when a mistake is made, it’s important that even the most experienced official in the game can own up to it.

“Probably the biggest thing that’s worked for me is humility. I have the ability to admit I’ve made a mistake. I can’t tell you how well that works for me,” said Brian Murphy, who has worked more than 2,000 regular-season games and another 300 playoff games over 31 NHL seasons. 

Of course, it’s easier to admit you made a mistake at the NHL level with the increased use of instant replay. Oddly enough, Murphy likes the extra scrutiny.

“I love replay because it’s made me a better official,” he said. “I know it’s a challenge for administrators because they have to balance whether it’s a hinderance to the game and getting the call right.”

In the wake of several well-publicized calls during the 2019 NHL playoffs, the league announced enhancements to video review and the coach’s challenge that will go into effect next season.

Rooney sees replay as a fact of life in the NHL and something he has learned to deal with. But he added that there’s a limit to the issues that replay can fix.

“It’s inevitable and it’s here to stay,” he said. “Me, personally, I don’t dislike it. I like to referee the hockey game but the ramifications are so large now. So I get it.

“I think the league has done a good job [with implementing replay], and I have an idea of what they’re going to bring in this year. I’m just hoping and I’m praying that this is going to be the end of what’s going to be reviewable.”


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