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Off-ice roles can extend from grassroots to the NHL

By USA Hockey, 10/25/16, 4:15PM MDT


Mid-Am District RIC Jim Weaver "in position" in the Video Replay Booth

When we think about NHL officials, most people think of the striped sweaters zooming around the ice, managing the teams and keeping the peace. However, there are many moving parts in NHL game operations and the off-ice officials also play a large role in ensuring a smooth-running game and accurate league statistics.

Of the thirteen current USA Hockey district referees-in-chief, four serve as NHL off-ice officials. Each night, they wear their uniform (NHL-crested blazer, shirt, tie and slacks) and perform their role to the best of their ability. They work hand-in-hand with the on-ice officiating crew and serve the highest level of the game with pride.

USA Hockey asked these district RICs how they earned their stripes (metaphorically speaking) in the NHL, and what their experience is like. Here’s what Leo Boylan (Atlantic District – Philadelphia Flyers), Ken Reinhard (Rocky Mountain District – Dallas Stars), Mike Shapey (New York District – New York Islanders) and Jim Weaver (Mid-American District – Pittsburgh Penguins) had to say from some of the best seats in the house.

USA HOCKEY: How long have you served as an NHL off-ice official?

Boylan: 18 years

Reinhard: This is my eighth season.

Shapey: Since the 1991-1992 season (25 years).

Weaver: My first game was in February 1994, so I am currently in my 23rd year with the NHL.

USAH: How did you get hired?

Boylan: I started officiating with USA Hockey and got to meet and work with a few guys who were already on the crew in Philadelphia. We became friends and I worked a lot of seminars with them along with games on the ice. One day they asked me if I would be interested in working as an off-ice official and of course I said yes.

Shapey: I was recommended by Jim Sullivan who just happened to be a linesman in the “Yellow Sunday” game in New Jersey.

Weaver:  I received a phone call in January 1994 from Wally Harris, former NHL referee and supervisor. He said, “Jimmy, my boy, I have a proposition for you. How would you like to be a video goal judge in Pittsburgh?” I thought about it for a while – maybe two milli-seconds – and accepted.

I received a call about 45 minutes later from Mr. Jack Riley, who had just resigned as VGJ, asking me if I had received a call from the NHL and saying, “I hope you said ‘yes,’ I recommended you to replace me!”

USAH: Was it easy being the rookie?

Reinhard: It’s never easy being the rookie. Aside from the abuse you get (all in good fun), you have a job to do and the expectation is that you are ready to do the job. There is a lot to learn, and in my position, commercial coordinator, something unexpected can always occur. I follow the same rule as when I was on the ice as an active official: “Expect the unexpected and treat it like you expected it.”

Weaver: For the first 10 years, VGJs were not part of the off-ice crew, like we are today. We were directly under the NHL Officiating Department. Back then, the Situation Room in Toronto did not exist, we made the calls 100 percent on our own and then had to overnight ship VHS tapes supporting every call we made to the NHL Toronto office the next morning.

USAH: In what positions have you served?

Boylan: I started as a commercial coordinator, then moved to video goal judge.

Reinhard: Officially, I have only worked as the commercial coordinator. I have spent a period here and there in pre-season games as the penalty box attendant and game timekeeper.

Shapey: Goal judge, penalty box attendant, official scorer, penalty timekeeper, game timekeeper and event analyst.

Weaver: In addition to video goal judge, I have also served as a goal judge, penalty box attendant and as a spotter in the Statistician Room.


USAH: What is your current role?

Boylan: Video goal judge for the last 14 years.

Reinhard: I am the guy that turns on and then off that annoying red light (to signal a media commercial break). I am one of the two commercial coordinators in Dallas.

Shapey: Four positions:  official scorer, penalty timekeeper, penalty box and goal judge.

Weaver: Primary position is video goal judge, secondary is goal judge.


USAH: What are the biggest challenges of your position?

Reinhard: You cannot get caught up in watching the game (as a spectator). You have to be able to do all the things we are trained to do as an on-ice official. Cueing for commercial breaks is a significant part of the job, but we have to be aware and ready to communicate on-ice situations to the broadcast trucks and assist the on-ice officials when asked. I also have to be vigilant to assist other crew members with what is happening on the ice. From calling out delayed penalties, icings and broken sticks to looking for the beginnings of an altercation, we have to be on our toes and focused.

Shapey: Official scorer is easily the position with the most challenges. You cannot take your eyes off the puck for a second. Total concentration is key; the game is incredibly fast.


USAH: Starting with arrival at the rink, walk us through your experience at an average game.

Boylan: I check in at the press room where the crew meets and eats dinner together. After checking in, I go upstairs to our video room to check in with the Toronto video room by headset, check the horn on the scoreboard and the arena technical coordinators who ultimately are responsible for our equipment. I don’t know how they fix things when they are not working, so I usually just get out of their way and wish them luck. Then it is back downstairs to the on-ice officials room just to let them know that I would be the one upstairs that night. We may talk about any new directives or odd situations that either of us have experienced. Then it is back to the press room for dinner. After dinner it’s up to the press level and the video goal judge room.

Weaver: I meet the video replay technician in the replay booth at least two hours before the game to check that all of our equipment is working properly (the video replay screens and recording equipment; television feeds; overhead and in-goal camera feeds; the horn button; stopwatch; intercom communication system (headset) with ice level and Toronto; dedicated telephone line directly to ice level and an outside telephone line to call the Situation Room, referee room, etc., if needed.

I also prepare the forms that I will use to record stoppages of play and the worksheets that track VGJ activities. We have a brief meeting with the referees about one hour before game time, immediately followed by an on-off officials pre-game meeting. Prior to puck drop, we check everything again, particularly our intercom system with ice level and Toronto and verify that feeds are going to the pad device in the penalty box for the referees in the event of a coach’s challenge. After the game, we call the Toronto office to summarize any goal reviews or coach’s challenges and send in detailed reports to the appropriate league officials. Then we attend the off-ice officials’ post-game meeting.


USAH: Playoffs…more pressure or another day at the office?

Boylan: There are a lot more people in the building during the playoffs (team personnel, scouts, etc.), so the atmosphere is different but I try to stay humble and realize my role.

Reinhard: Always more pressure. There is so much riding on the playoffs, so much more scrutiny that we feel the added pressure.

Shapey: Another day at the office, with a much different atmosphere. No need to change anything; just do what you do.

Weaver: The heightened playoff atmosphere that exists for everyone else involved is felt by the off-ice officials as well. It is a privilege to be involved in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and work hand in hand with the series manager.


USAH: What are the perks of serving as an NHL off-ice official?

Reinhard: I never made it as an on-ice official, but the idea that I work for the National Hockey League and wear that crest on my coat provides a certain level of pride and accomplishment. Many people don’t know the important role off-ice officials play in conducting a game. From stats to time keeping to letting players out of the penalty box on time and correctly to keeping commercial breaks on time and within the rule structure, it is all very important to the on-ice crew and to the game’s consistent operation, from night to night, to city to city.

Shapey: Major perk for me is that my daughters got to see a lot of games growing up. In addition, I get to see New York (District) officials work games.


USAH: Most interesting story or experience:

Boylan: An occurrence that usually happens is, if my sons are watching the game and we have a review that doesn’t go their way, they text me after the game and let me know how they feel. One night they waited up for me until I walked in the door and started giving it to me pretty good. Guess that is what you get for being humble and proud to be just a small part of a great game.

Reinhard: I said earlier you had to be ready for the unexpected, so here it is. The Blackhawks were in town playing the Stars. The Blackhawks took a penalty that would extend into the commercial break window. You cannot go to a commercial break when there is a power play on ice and you go to commercial break based on the on-ice strength of the teams when there is a whistle to stop play. Play was going on, I counted down the break window to the broadcast truck and don’t you know, the play stopped for a whistle EXACTLY when the penalty expired on the scoreboard clock. First thing I did was check with the penalty time keeper to see if any tenths of a second remained on the penalty. That would have kept the Blackhawks player in the penalty box. Answer was, “No. It was 0:00.00.” The whistle blew and time stopped with the Stars having five skaters and the Blackhawks having four skaters on ice. Unequal on-ice strength, per the rule in the handbook, says you do not go to commercial break and that means I would hold the break until the next stoppage. Logic says, the teams are now at equal strength and we should go to break. The Blackhawks coaching staff thought that logic should prevail. The rule in the handbook told me no break. I followed the rule. The Blackhawks were not happy (the on-ice officials told me so when we did go to break 30 seconds later). I communicated with Dave Baker (NHL manager of off-ice officials) the next day and he agreed I handled it correctly and gave me kudos for knowing and following the rule. It had never come up before and the result is the league changed the rule on this situation because of that condition. Now, if a penalty expires dead on the number, we go to commercial break.

Shapey: I got hit by a puck in warm-ups. Had to get 12 stitches above my left eye, but I was in the visitors penalty box in time for the opening face-off.

Weaver: A few years ago, the NHL Draft was held in Pittsburgh. The off-ice crew was asked to volunteer in assisting the NHL with various activities associated with the draft experience. On the second day, I was assigned to assist with the Stanley Cup public display in the arena, working with Phil Pritchard, the keeper of the Cup, and his staff. As we were given our instructions, I was most impressed with their genuine concerns and the extra steps taken to make this interaction with the Cup the best it can be, for as many fans as possible. My job was to greet the next person or group in line, talk with them about what photos they wanted and offer to take those photos for them. This planning was to ensure their time with the Cup was more efficient and productive, without rushing them too much and to get as many people as possible to the Cup. Like officiating a great game, I was caught up in the genuine excitement and enthusiasm of the people, young and old, most seeing the Stanley Cup for the first time. That provided a feeling of exhilaration and satisfaction that made those four hours just fly by. It was a distinct honor and privilege to be involved with one of the most unique and classy traditions and experiences of our sport.