I have had an interesting couple of weeks lately.
With some of the cold and snowy days, there have been hockey nights when attendance is down. This includes the officiating staff as well at times. One night a couple of weeks ago, due to snow, ice and slow traffic in this winter wonderland, the on ice officials were delayed in arriving at Santander Arena. Not only that – there was a scarcity of people available to serve as off-ice officials.
Where is this all going, you might ask? This shortage of off-ice official talent led to my draft status being changed to One-A. So, after many years of complaining about the shot count, I was operating the shot counter!
Boy, does being in that position change how you watch the game! My eyes never left the puck. The shot has to be on net to be a shot on goal. And, it’s necessary to identify who made the shot, including who might have tipped it on its way to the crease. There are stat people around the rink with radios who call the shots, but you still have to be on your toes. Sometimes shots happen in rapid succession, and from different players.
I also had to fill out penalties and goals on the official scoresheet. For a goal, that involves the team, time, goal-scorer, any assists and all the players on the ice at the time of the goal for both teams. This was a hard enough task for the new guy when it happened the first time. There’s a lot going on, with a lot of information gathering while the arena is celebrating LOUDLY.
Just so I was broken in right, wouldn’t you know it, there were two goals by Reading 8 seconds apart! There were plenty of chicken scratches on that score sheet, and it’s really hard to hear what’s coming over the radio with the “goal music” blaring. Remarkably, the off-ice crew gets it all right, and if there is any disparity, looking at the video between periods confirms the correct data. Every effort is taken to get the data correct; these guys and gals really do take their jobs seriously.
I’ve learned a lot by sitting and talking to the Supervisor of Officials as well. He’s at the rink to fill out a different kind of scorecard, critiquing the on-ice officials. Sometimes everything is running smoothly. Sometimes he’s even unhappier with the officials than the fans are. Of course he’s looking at a different outcome. As he’s told me, “There are guys who have played a thousand games and never won one of them.” He’s assessing whether the Ref is taking charge of game, establishing early on that cheap stuff isn’t going to be tolerated that night. He’s watching to see that all the men in stripes are skating to the right position to be able to make the calls they are responsible for.
We fans tend to forget that the best referees and linesmen are up a level or two, in the NHL and the AHL, with the really good players. Admittedly it is true that some of the on-ice officials we see in Santander have the experience and capability to be up but just haven’t found that opening at the higher level. But there are also men who have not gotten the experience at this game, having been at juniors and college.
Add to that that the ECHL level is just about the last bastion of single referee officiating. The positioning to make the right calls and perform other duties (like controlling the inevitable scrum or two) is different than with four men on the ice. And some of these guys trying to get to the next level don’t skate so well!
So, do I have a newfound knowledge of good and bad officiating? Maybe so. Will it stop me from booing the bums when they make bad calls against MY team? NO WAY!