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USA Hockey makes game-changing efforts to improve officiating

By Evan Sporer, 10/31/17, 12:00PM MDT


Trial program showed positive results during 2015-16 season

By adopting and implementing an innovative cognitive training program, USA Hockey has taken a bold step to improve its officiating performance and development.

Scott Zelkin and Matt Leaf, leaders of the USA Hockey Officiating Education Program, have aimed to reduce phantom calls and enhance the game experience for everyone while continuing to preserve safety and sportsmanship at all levels.

With the help of The Hockey IntelliGym, a cognitive engineering program developed by ACE (Applied Cognitive Engineering), USA Hockey referees are experiencing a new training program and seeing positive results.

The so-called "false alarms" are being greatly reduced.

“As the level increases, and the pressure increases, we’re working with officials in terms of their anticipation, in terms of their awareness, and in terms of their judgment,” said Zelkin, manager of USA Hockey’s Junior Officiating Development Program. “If we can help limit mistakes, it’s a victory for everyone. Officiating hockey is no different than playing in the sense that you’re trying to limit mistakes.”

The Hockey IntelliGym completed a program with USA Hockey and its referees during the 2015-16 season, and its results showed a 92-percent reduction in the amount of times officials stopped the game for no justified reason.

“To run the IntelliGym program, it takes 20-30 minutes for each segment, but it’s progressive, so once the participant achieves a certain level, the game changes,” said Leaf, the director of USA Hockey’s Officiating Education Program. “There’s a very scientific progression that’s involved. Essentially what it does is brain training as it relates to situations and environments for hockey players.”

Of the 40 referees who went through the program, juxtaposed to the control group, the IntelliGym-trained referees reduced unjustified game stoppages by an average of 2.55 times per game. Each group improved as the season went on, but the IntelliGym-trained referees progressed at a much higher clip.

“Even before we got the results back,” Zelkin said, “there were a number of officials that said to me, ‘You know what? I noticed a difference in how I was thinking about things on the ice and how I was reacting to things on the ice. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the IntelliGym, but it seems kind of coincidental otherwise. I really liked it.’”

By improving a referee’s cognitive function, it allows him or her to be in the proper position to see the play and make the correct decision. Every American-born referee hired by the NHL the past 19 years has come through USA Hockey’s Officiating Development Program. The goal now, according to Zelkin and Leaf, is for those in stripes to keep pace with the accelerating players they’re policing.

This is just one of the many ways in which USA Hockey is working proactively to improve officiating performance and development, thereby enhancing the game experience for all involved.

To learn more about the science and technology behind The Hockey IntelliGym, please visit:

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