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How to be Consistent amidst Inconsistency

By Michael Caples, 01/29/16, 9:30PM MST


Dave Madsen knows that consistency is a word used frequently when a hockey game’s participants are displeased with the officiating. But according to Madsen, sizing up a referee’s consistency isn’t as simple as it’s made out to be.

“It’s the biggest ‘watch word’ in the game,” said Madsen, a longtime supervisor in USA Hockey’s Junior Officiating Development Program and in minor-pro hockey. “It’s the go-to word for coaches when they’re not happy. It’s huge. The funny thing about it is there is more that comes into it than just that word.

“To get to that point of where you will appear consistent there are two things: your skating ability and your positioning. They factor in together. The better you can skate, the better position you can be in to make a judgment. All of the judgments that you make are going to add up to people’s opinion of whether you are consistent or not.”

So what is good consistency for a referee?

“Consistency is when you can gain acceptance by the participants and the coaches,” Madsen said. “If you’re accepted, they feel you’re doing a good job, therefore they will think you are consistent with what you call. There are a lot of factors that go into it – when is a penalty a penalty? If a tree falls in the woods and nobody sees it, did it make a sound? In a hockey game, if a guy gets hooked or slashed behind the play, and the referee didn’t see it, and it’s not called, it still happened.”

The important thing to consider, according to Madsen, is that a whole lot goes into officiating a game, and sometimes, a referee shouldn’t make the same call in the third period that he or she may have in the first period.

“The stock answer on this question that you’re talking about is, yes, we need to call whatever we call in the first period throughout the second period and throughout the third period,” Madsen said. “But that’s not always true. There are a lot of factors that go into the judgment that the official makes. If it’s a 7-1 game in the third, the team that’s winning may think that now that they’ve beat them on the scoreboard they’re going to beat them up a little bit. You might be well advised to try to slow that pace down a little bit. If there is – I hate to say a marginal penalty – but maybe something that wouldn’t be called in a close game, it’s called then because it’s protection mode. Sometimes you have to go there, sometimes you don’t. In a close game, the players are trying hard to tie the score, take the lead or hold the lead, so it’s a different set of circumstances. A good official, relating to consistency, knows how to factor into his job what will be consistent in that atmosphere.”

As Madsen points out, hockey in itself is inconsistent.

“Hockey is a game, and it’s very tough to be consistent in an inconsistent atmosphere. We can have two teams play each other in a home-and-home series. The first night, it’s very, very rough and there are lots of penalties, maybe a few fights. People get thrown out of the game and so on. The next night, the thinking is, ‘Oh man, it’s going to be bad tonight,’ and then, once the game starts, it goes fine. There is no fighting and everybody just plays.

“It’s an inconsistent atmosphere that we deal with that actually doesn’t seem to be true in any of the other major sports. And it’s tough to be consistent in an inconsistent atmosphere. Consistency is important, but an official has to be in-tune with the factors of the game to be consistent.”