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In Focus: The 2015-16 Season

By USA Hockey, 09/24/15, 4:00PM MDT


Q&A with USA Hockey Director of Officiating Education Program Matt Leaf

The skates are sharpened and the whistles have been shined – it’s hockey season. As we prepare for the 2015-16 season, USA Hockey Director of Officiating Education Program Matt Leaf offers this advice for officials who are ready to hit the ice.

USA Hockey:  The 2015-16 season is underway, what are some of the primary areas of focus for USA Hockey Officials?

Matt Leaf:
USA Hockey certainly wants the officials to continue the emphasis on the body checking and restraining foul standards of play, with special attention given to those infractions considered dangerous actions.  We realize that players, coaches and parents all play a role in how the game is played and the environment that is created. However, the officials need to take their responsibility seriously and properly enforce the rules of the game each time they step on the ice.

USAH: You mentioned dangerous actions. USA Hockey recently enacted rule changes that more severely penalize those players who are considered dangerous-action repeat offenders. How has that initiative gone and does USA Hockey have any data from the first year of Rule 411?

It really is too early to tell what type of effect the implementation of Rule 411 has had on the game. It will take two or three years of data to get a handle on the results. However, the online game-reporting system has been invaluable as it relates to collecting pertinent data. This last season (the first season of Rule 411) saw 16 players receive additional suspensions for incurring their third major penalty for an aggressive action, and an additional 194 players on the edge with two majors. In addition, there were 68 players receiving additional suspensions for their second fight in the same season.

In regard to some of the other interesting data collected, the reported penalties assessed are most prevalent at the 14-and-Under age classification and those infractions (major, major plus game, or match penalty) falling under the dangerous actions category (Rule 411) made up more than 50 percent of all infractions reported in the system. Of those dangerous actions, checking from behind, head contact and boarding make up more than 60 percent (3,200) of the severe penalties called. 

Needless to say, these areas are of considerable concern and require proper diligence by all of our officials – and coaches – to properly enforce these rules.

USAH:  What are some of the other issues you hear about on a day-to-day basis?  You must get a ton of emails and calls throughout the course of the season.

Monday mornings after a full slate of weekend games do tend to be a little busier during the season. In the vast majority of situations, we listen and then refer the parent/coach/player addressing the concern back to their local area. If it’s a simple rules question or about the application of the rules, we can generally solve it at the national office. If it’s a complaint or concern about the officiating, then that is definitely referred back to the local area as we realize we are only hearing one side of the story and the reality is that the truth is going to be somewhere in the middle.

Most of the legitimate concerns that come in basically fall back on the accountability of the officials. Maybe the officials did not enforce the rules up to the expected standard or approached the game with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude that is not conducive to creating a positive environment. An overall laziness and an I-don’t-care attitude is impossible to defend and is easily recognizable by anyone watching the game. A failure to communicate or an adversarial approach to a coach or parent is also one of those areas where the official is in a negative situation.

On the flip side, those complaints that come in where the officials called too many penalties and simply held the players/coaches accountable for playing within the rules are easy for the local supervisor to defend and generally do not go well for the plaintiff. The referee “didn’t let the kids play” is becoming less and less acceptable in this day and age. Safety of the participants is a top priority.

USAH: So, what final piece of advice can you give the officials that will help them be successful in making the game better this season and beyond?

The bottom line is the officials who take their role seriously, have a little bit of pride and step on the ice with the intent of working hard and enforcing the rules to the best of their ability will be accepted and have success. Sure, they will still make mistakes and those mistakes will generally be accepted as long as the effort and the positive approach to the game is present. 

Players want the officials to be fair and consistently apply the rules to both teams. The good coaches who understand the role of the official is simply looking for the strong effort and the individual accountability of contributing positively to the game while allowing the players to compete within the rules. Finally, parents want the officials to be accountable for contributing to fair and safe environment in which their children compete. 

Just like anything else, there will always be a small minority within each of these groups that don’t get it and have a negative influence on the majority who are trying to do the right thing. The key for each individual official is to take pride in being part of the officiating team and not let themselves fall into the minority of those who lack the personal accountability to do the right thing.

Have a great season folks!