Officiating: Being Part of the Solution
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When I turned on the TV this morning, I saw a news story about how history will be made today when an all-female officiating crew -- Stephanie Frappart (France), Neuza Back (Brazil) and Karen Diaz (Mexico) -- works the men's World Cup soccer match between Germany and Costa Rica.
First thought: Congratulations and Godspeed to these three officials.
Followup thought: It's about time, and I hope the powers-that-be treat this and more than a one-off gimmick. Being a good official is NOT dependent on having a Y chromosome. It's dependent on knowledge, judgment and moxie. Sports such as soccer and hockey also nowadays require officials to have a high degree of athleticism. Great conditioning and proper positioning are indispensable.
Takeaway thought: For the lip service and half-hearted "commitment" that the NHL and other top governing powers-that-be in hockey profess about seeing female officials break the glass ceiling to officiate at the very top level on the merits of their work, I still see little more than self-serving pretense. The governing bodies aren't truly serious about it, at least not yet.
That's a shame. It does some very promising prospects a disservice on the developmental support side and it does the game itself an equally big disservice.
So many in hockey are aware of the dilemma that our sport faces with the dwindling pool officials at all levels. Let's address this issue in entirety because, it is not just whining coaches and players or miscreant parents and fans who are driving down the officiating numbers.
This issue with a smaller pool starts at the organizational level for hockey at all levels. There is no respect for the difficulty in officiating because there are very few players, coaches or parents that even think about officiating the game not just for the money but as well for the joy of being out on the ice and contributing to the state of the game.
Leagues and organizations should try to introduce officiating to everyone who is playing in their Leagues by having a video produced enlightening people abut Officiating and introducing some of the people involved in that aspect of the game.
Through this video, we may be able to start to have non-officials understand that officiating, like coaching, playing, sharpening skates, treating injuries, selling tickets, is a major part of the game. So major a part that games can't start without officials on the ice to keep it safe.
Recruitment: The entire mantle has been neglected and ignored by executives, teams, coaches and schools.
Why have we not made it mandatory for a player or a coach to officiate a game at a level that allows them a "taste" of what officiating is all about? Schools should be sending, in harmony with leagues, schools and parent organizations, an invitation to a preseason camp to try officiating.
In my 12 years with the ECAC officiating, D-1, only one coach gave me the name of an alumnus who might have an interest in trying Officiating. That guy prospered and went onto D-3, D-1 and the AHL as a referee.
I had 24 teams. Shame on the coaches and Athletic Directors for not helping me recruit people.
On the Women's side, it is even worse. Women's coaches must be bad examples because getting former D-1 players to even come to a camp was nearly impossible. The constant barking by some of the Women's coaches definitely dissuaded ex-players from even thinking about reffing.
In 12 years, I had only two D-1 players come back into the League as referees. Both Women referees have prospered and are or have done Olympic Hockey, NCAA Frozen Four Hockey, NHL camps and are now signed as referees in the AHL.
I think that College Hockey has been negligent in fertilizing the pool of officials by doing nothing to introduce their Alumni to this aspect of The Game. Former NHL players of modern vintage don't need the money and likely won't take the job (although it'd be helpful if they did) but guys from all of the minors should be recruited with vigor.
Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, the IIHF and The Russian Hockey Federation plus all of the groups in all other countries that have high level Hockey: GET OFF YOUR ASSES. Start thinking together and especially out of the box to find ways and means to recruit former players to the officiating side of the game.
Make the introduction phase, user friendly. Hours on the computer turns people off. Get Officials onto the ice doing lower level games where they can work the practical application of the rules. Have seminars where video is shown and the officials, veterans and rookies, sit together to talk Hockey and talk Officiating. You will find that everyone can learn from each other. It will build teamwork and camaraderie plus accelerate the learning curve.
We need people who love the game, love to skate and did not hoist a Stanley Cup to try Officiating. This calls for a joint commitment by all on the Officiating side of the game.
To Assignors: When you get new people, break them in with veteran officials who will mentor them vs being jealous of them or looking askance at them as rivals vs teammates.
You can't get better until you get better games. Give the assignments out and let people find a level that helps them find success. STOP cozying up to your friends by overloading your buddies and barely using the rest of your pool.
Assignors, STOP trying to be the be all, end all with threats that officials who work other Leagues won't work for you.
These people have lives that are vastly varied. They work when they can and where they can. STOP blackmailing them. You know, I know and the officials know who you are. I will tell you to your face: You're full of crap and you aren't fooling anyone. I can say it because I don't need your games.
I have a clear vision and the experience at every level to see what you are doing.. You're just as much at fault for killing officiating. Fact: 900 on your watch in Mass have left. Own that. It's real.
Do you still "love me?"
Finally, the officiating ranks in hockey are part of "us" and not "them"...stop treating THEM as enemies. Officials make mistakes. So do you and so do your "superstar" players.
This is an open forum. Don't whine about the quality of the people we have now. Let's add more numbers of good skaters and dedicated people who love the game. If they can skate, I can teach them the rest.. Ask Jim Curtin, Mike Zyla, Katie Guay, Kelly Cooke, Amanda Tassoni, Yuri Ronn, Evgeny Romasko and a bunch of other "thems" that I have had the pleasure of working with.
Watching their success has been worth the time I spent with these people.
It may be the Promised Land and I may not get there with you but I'll do what I can do to help the game find it's way out of the barren desert that officiating and "The Game" is now facing.
A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of
being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.