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10 Reasons We Love Officiating

By Emily Zak, 03/23/16, 3:15PM MDT


As officials, we work nights and weekends. We put our family lives on hold, traveling miles across cities, states and even countries. Sometimes we’re even injured. We often take the blame for players’ mistakes and always hold their safety in our hands – all for the sake of the game.

We talked with a few officials about why we keep going. 

1. “The people I’ve met throughout the years.” –Patrick Bush, NHL video goal judge 
Like many of us, Bush’s No. 1 draw to officiating is the people he’s lucky enough to know. Serving as an NHL video goal judge for the last 20 years, he’s been able to pull in a few of those people he’s met, with retired NHL refs often helping him during officiating seminars. Bush says his career’s highpoint was officiating the 2009 USA Hockey National Championships in North Carolina. He met coaches and players from more than 24 teams across the country—spanning from St. Louis to Bellaire, Michigan. 

2. We go places.
Being an official can take us across town or across the world. In a little less than a decade, Seattle-area referee Brienne Stewart, for instance, has overseen a high school elite tournament in Minnesota, Junior A games in British Columbia and even a Latvian Inline Hockey Federation competition in Spain. At home, she’s working up to 12 games in a weekend, whether they’re at the 18U travel level or just 10-year-olds.

3. “I love to be with the kids.” –Bush 
Bush recalls former kids from his officiating program returning later and asking if he remembered them. He may say no—he’s trained thousands of aspiring referees and remembering names is easier when they’re written on helmets—but he relishes helping youth like them grow in their relationship to the game. He’s proud to have passed kids who’ve moved on to Harvard scholarships, Naval Academy attendance and prep school teams through his officiating program. Whether we’re mentoring scores of whippersnappers, or just sharing a kind word with a teenage linesman we’re skating with for the day, the young keep us going. 

4. “We’re a profession.” –Roger Newell, data base coordinator for Rocky Mountain District 
For those of us who can’t play pro, officiating is one of the few ways we can build a (paying) career around hockey. The Land of Enchantment Amateur Hockey Association’s Newell has served as a referee in New Mexico for three decades, building on a lifelong love of the sport he started playing at age 5. 

5. “You see way more than if you’re just on one team.” –Stewart 
Players are more susceptible to tunnel vision during a game, watching the puck, looking for the pass; we officials, however, see all. Or at least we try to. 

“It’s really funny when a player’s like, ‘Oh, I wasn’t offsides,’ It’s like, ‘Oh, I know it was offsides.’” says Stewart. “’I was back here watching. Yeah, you didn’t notice that, of course, because you’re head down and focused on skating.’”

6. “Now I’ve seen it, I know where to go.” –Stewart  
Because we spend so much time watching, our hockey sense for our own games skyrockets. We can predict where skaters will go and know what to do in front of the net, as well as maneuver our way around certain teams because we recognize the way they play.

7. We keep the game safe.
Officials are on the frontlines for keeping hockey fun and fair—and all players functioning. We embrace that responsibility and have the power to get potentially dangerous actions under control. After all, as Newell notes, “Penalties are all about a result of the actions of players, not a result of the actions of the officiating staff.”

8. “It keeps me involved in [the game at] a much faster pace.” –Bush 
Officiating gets us out on the ice and on the sidelines of games most of us could never dream of playing in. Since the Carolina Hurricanes came to town, Bush has played the vital role in ensuring that the goals called in pro games were accurate.

9. Our teamwork is legendary.
Unlike teams, which need to coordinate with as many as 20 people over multiple lines, we officials just have to work with a few people. Stewart says that can lead to unmatched teamwork and loves how she’s developed an unspoken communication with her fellow referees on the ice.

“I’ve worked with some amazing, amazing people, and just being on the ice with them, feeling that energy, working together, sometimes that’s just like the best thing ever,” says Stewart. “And if it’s a good game to boot—ah!—it’s like magic.”

10. We’re part of a proud few. 
Whether we’re referees, linesmen, timekeepers or other officials, we have a unique job. Bush acts as one of only 60 video goal judges in the country, while Newell is part of a handful of refs based out of New Mexico.

“The shortage of officials is basically a result of [a lack of] willingness of individuals to put their values on the line,” says Newell. “A lot of guys and gals would say, ‘Oh, yeah, for one, I don’t skate well enough,’ or ‘I don’t that…’ A lot of times the bottom line is, ‘I don’t want to get in front of someone and make a statement,’ which is blowing the whistle, making a call, controlling a situation in the game. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea.”

But for those of us lucky enough to wear the stripes, we know one thing is for sure: We wouldn’t have it any other way. 

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