A re­volv­ing door of hockey of­fi­cials

The Compass - - SPORTS - Ni­cholas Mercer is a reporter/pho­tog­ra­pher with The Com­pass news­pa­per. He is also an on-ice of­fi­cial with the Bay Arena mi­nor hockey as­so­ci­a­tion. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

Mi­nor hockey is get­ting started in the Trin­ity Con­cep­tion re­gion, with games just around the cor­ner.

When it comes to start­ing mi­nor hockey, the fo­cus tends to be on the play­ers. The fo­cus is on the price to play hockey in this coun­try, teach­ing them the proper skills and learn­ing to re­spect team­mates and coaches.

Be­cause, hey, they’re the most im­por­tant part of the game, right?

How­ever, lost in the process are the of­fi­cials. It’s their time of year, too.

While play­ers are busy pre­par­ing for the sea­son with hockey schools, the young men and women who don the black and white for ev­ery game are go­ing to school in prepa­ra­tion for their year. There are new rules to learn, new pro­ce­dures to get down pat and a host of other con­cerns be­fore they can step on the ice.

But, those who sit down in clin­ics ev­ery year aren’t al­ways the same. Hockey Canada loses some 10,000 of­fi­cials ev­ery year. That’s a pretty big num­ber isn’t it? Break­ing it down, lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tions may lose be­tween two and three a year.

Sure, they may be re­placed with new of­fi­cials, but that’s not the point. Ide­ally, you would want the new of­fi­cials and the old ones. In­stead, ref­eree as­so­ci­a­tions have to start fresh again with new faces.

You know why th­ese young of­fi­cials are leav­ing this side of the game be­hind? There isn’t some mag­i­cal for­mula for why they leave. It should be com­mon sense. Point to it a lack of in­ter­est, but more of­ten than not, they don’t want to put up with the abuse re­ceived from fans, coaches and play­ers.

What it boils down to is a lack of re­spect for of­fi­cials. And, it is this lack of re­spect at all lev­els that cause ta­lented young men and women to step away. Any­one who says oth­er­wise need to take their head out of the sand and take a look around.

Here is a scene that is sure to hap­pen at least once ev­ery year. A cou­ple of atom teams take to the ice. The two teams are hav­ing a great game un­til the in­evitable hap­pens. The of­fi­cial with the red stripes calls a penalty. Yes, it’s a penalty, but not ev­ery­one sees it that way.

The more ir­ra­tional fans don’t un­der­stand the call so they start shout­ing, the coach gets an­gry so he starts shout­ing and in­evitably the play­ers get an­gry, so they start shout­ing. All of a sud­den the fo­cus is on the of­fi­cial be­cause he made a “bad call.” It might not have been the per­fect call, but in the of­fi­cial’s eyes, it was the right call to make.

The abuse then starts to build up over the en­tire game. When the game is over, that of­fi­cial will sit in the dress­ing room and say to him­self, ‘why am I do­ing this?’

Do you think that should hap­pen? Should they be forced out of the game be­cause of the ob­ses­sion this coun­try has with hockey? With win­ning?

The only an­swer is no. Peo­ple have been charged with ha­rass­ment for less than what has been said in a hockey rink. Go to any game at any rink in the prov­ince and you’ll see the same thing and that is young of­fi­cials be­ing ver­bally abused.

It does not hap­pen at ev­ery game, but it does hap­pen. Some­times, it hap­pens to the ex­treme.

Sure, like I said ear­lier, some of­fi­cials just be­come dis­in­ter­ested in of­fi­ci­at­ing, but for the most part they don’t want to deal with the non­sense that comes with the job.

They have more press­ing things to worry about, like school, than to worry about be­ing ver­bally ac­costed by some grown man in his 40s about whether it was trip­ping or not be­cause the puck was played first.

It is this that prompts of­fi­cials to leave the game ev­ery year. They might be re­placed, but ask any ref­eree-in-chief and they’ll tell you they’d rather have the new guys and the more ex­pe­ri­enced guys. That’s how you de­velop a pro­gram. That’s how you de­velop good of­fi­cials.

Be­lieve me, the ref­eree knows if/when they made a mis­take or missed a call. They do not need re­mind­ing.

Another fac­tor could be a strong men­tor­ing pro­gram for those new of­fi­cials. If they con­tinue to go out and make the same mis­takes, they might doubt their abil­i­ties. Sub­se­quently, they de­cide to cut their losses and quit.

There are pro­grams in place that ad­dress this is­sue, but most of the older guys who would be men­tors can­not spend as much time at the rink as nec­es­sary. In­evitably, some fall through the cracks. It all plays a part in young of­fi­cials leav­ing the ranks and it’s some­thing we should try and stomp out.

You can’t play the game with­out them. So, give it a rest.

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