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The Stew: Positioning, Evaluating, True Purpose and More

May 13, 2024, 12:37 PM ET [0 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Positioning Sells Calls

Another night in the Stanley Cup playoffs, another goaltender interference call/non-call controversy. Last night in Boston, the Florida Panthers overcame a 2-0 deficit to rally for a 3-2 victory and a three games to one lead in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. The outcome, however, was steeped in controversy.

On the game-tying goal in the third period, Florida's Sam Bennett shoved Boston's Charlie Coyle into goaltender Jeremy Swayman a moment before Bennett stashed home a power play rebound to knot the score at 2-2.

The Bruins challenged the call. The Situation Room upheld the on-ice ruling.

Do I feel like the right call was made? No. But that wasn't the main thing at issue in the big picture. Once again, I think the situation on Sunday night reflected major issues with the state of officiating: positioning and the overreliance on replay.

Yes, the near-side referee goes to the net. But he arrived late and is nowhere near the best possible vantage point to see what he needed to see as the fateful push into the goaltender took place. He only arrives to signal that the puck, in fact, crossed the goal line and went into the net. It was a broken play, which happens often. That's why proactive positioning matters.

As far as the replay aspect goes, the Situation Room ruled the push "did not prevent Swayman from playing his position in the crease prior to Bennett's goal." This could be argued either way, but it sometimes doesn't take a forceful push, especially when someone is leaning forward, to send him into the goaltender. I thought it impeded Swayman from having a realistic chance at a save. But it's one of those "is the soup too salty or is it just right" propositions.

This is exactly why "just fix it in replay" is a terrible mentality. Positioning is the No. 1 way to justify a tough judgment call. Relying on electronics, The Blackout in The Edmonton/Boston Game way back when...computers getting compromised, wifi down....Making calls from 1,000 miles away....do we need more examples on letting electronics take over ?

I've seen multiple examples of faulty positioning in this series alone. On the goaltender interference penalty on Boston's Jakub Lauko, the referee was skating forward and caught at the 1/2 wall and then skated in to catch up,BEHIND the play. This was a fundamental error. The proper positioning would be to skate backward with the play coming at you, so everything is IN FRONT of you.

How Officials Are Evaluated

I have shown this before, but I think bears repeating. I'm often asked about "how are officials held accountable?" by supervisors. The answer is that officials are regularly evaluated and critiqued. Officials can be fined, lose assignments. etc., based upon the evaluations if there are repeated issues that go uncorrected.

Below is a sample real-life evaluation I wrote up when I was The Chairman for Officiating and Player Discipline for the KHL.. I removed the name of the official, the date, the game location and the teams involved, but the commentary and ratings come directly from the original report.

Official Evaluated: John Doe
Date: Whenever
Assignment: Referee
Location: Arena A
Score: Home team won by mulitple goals
Home Team: The Guys in Dark Uniforms
Away Team: The Other Guys

Evaluation Rating System
Excellent (5) = Outstanding for that category, excellent performance, stellar officiating
Good (4) = Slight room for improvement, well above average, very few issues, reliable officiating
Fair (3) = Minor cause for concern, moderate deficiencies in this area, passable officiating
Poor (2) = Encountered significant problems, clear shortcomings, undependable officiating
Inadequate (1) = Overwhelmed, unacceptable performance, no confidence in this officiating

General Comments and Notes: I have seen Referee Doe at least 5 times this season. Skating backwards and forwards but especially backwards is a concern. Conditioning is another concern. He knows it and he has been told after every game. Get moving and get to the net.

Category: Appearance (Uniform, Attitude, Presence/Poise)
Evaluation Rating: 4
Comments: He looks professional in his uniform. As for his attitude, he does not seem to respond to coaching and suggestions. It's his career. My advice: get moving and get skating.

Category: Skating (Forward, Backward, Hustle)
Evaluation Rating: 2.5
Comments: Often gets in the way: Skates to the half-boards and stands there. Called several penalties as R2 from well behind the blue line. Does not understand that skates are for skating. Referee Doe is not moving in the form needed for this level. Got knocked down in corner, and it was his fault.

Category: Positioning (Goal Line, Blue Line, Reaction to Play, Stoppages)
Evaluation Rating: 2.5
Comments: A byproduct of not skating is poor positioning. I honestly recommend that Referee Doe get skating and improve his positioning significantly if he is to stay at this level. He's not helping himself. Do get someone to work with you on your technique.

Category: Signals (Execution, Assessment Procedures)
Evaluation Rating: 5
Comments: Handled correctly. Not the issue.

Category: Judgment (Rule Knowledge, Rule Application, Consistency, Decisiveness, Game Control)
Evaluation Rating: 2.5
Comments: Positioning sells calls. A goaltender interference call was made from over 100 feet out..from that far, yes, there was contact, but the low referee, 20 feet away didn't call it. It was a call that could have been let go and trust the near man to make the call and he wouldn't hang you. Not a strong call.

Category: Awareness (Rink Conditions, During Play and Stoppages, Teamwork/ Communication)
Evaluation Rating: 4.5
Comments: No real issue with this aspect.

Category: Communication (with Officials, Players, and Coaches)
Evaluation Rating: 4.5
Comments: Not an issue. He's a likable guy.

Category: Working the Net
Evaluation Rating: 2
Comments: He's told to get to the net and he stands in the corners. Why?

Category: Penalty Calls
Evaluation Rating: 2
Comments: Not many in the game. Not a real issue except for the goalie interference.

Category: Conditioning
Evaluation Rating: 2.5
Comments: Referee Doe is not in as good condition as his brother officials who work the same games....needs to tighten up his stomach and get some power for backwards skating which is his real deficiency. Core strength is missing.

Steve Kozari is no "coward"

I have critical in the past, sometimes very critical, of longtime Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.

I softened my stance in more recent years. Professionally, I respected the fact that Edwards actually attended NHL Officiating Camps to learn more about the Rule Book and how it should be applied; something that he recognized was an area of weakness for him (and which I wish more broadcasters would do to educate themselves). Ron MacLean was one broadcaster who attended our camps to learn and be better. It should almost be mandatory for all who sit up in the overhead and come off as "Experts." Fans take the cue from these "Experts." Some, and I know many, Jiggs, Sam, Bob, Gene, Dan, Fred, Bob and others from the bygone era would often come by to say hello before the game. They would avail themselves of my willingness to answer their questions so that they came off well on the air and that the fans listening got the unvarnished truth. That's the way to be a PRO !!!!!

On a strictly human level, Edwards has had health issues and was forced to wind down his career. I had no intention of saying anything derogatory. He is retiring, and I thought it was best just to leave it at that.

Unfortunately, during Boston's first-round playoff series against Toronto, Edwards called NHL referee Steve Kozari a "coward" after Kozari left the ice while Boston's Charlie McAvoy demanded an explanation at the end of a period during Game 2.

Yes, the same Steve Kozari who was carried off the ice on a stretcher just a few weeks after a serious on-ice collision and it was feared had suffered a season-ending injury. The same official who worked his tail off to return to the ice. The same one who is out there, doing his absolute best to keep games safe and fair.

Disagree with a call, even vehemently? No problem. It's all part of the job. But call him a coward from your seat up in pressbox level? Way out of bound.

Edwards is exiting his career as the same blowhard homer that tainted the quality of his work far too many times over the years. That's a shame.

We met years ago when he was breaking a cardinal rule in the pressbox at the old Boston Garden by cheering openly for The Bruins and by criticizing the officials on the ice without knowing what the hell he was actually talking about. After a few minutes of listening to him, I leaned over and told him that if he didn't stop cheering for the Bruins and calling out the referee for each and every call that went against the Bruins, I was going to pitch him over the side.

I regretted putting the VP of The Bruins, Nate Greenberg, in a tough spot. Nate asked me to move a few seats down which I complied out of respect for Nate and the NHL protocols of the pressbox. Not one of my own proudest moments.

Years later, when Jack was the TV voice, I had a difficult time keeping silent as the Ultimate Homer in the business spewed his uneducated propaganda about the NHL game and his venom on anything officiating-related. I wanted to walk up to him and give him the old Gordie Howe greeting... an elbow to the face. I refrained, wisely.

Time and tide softened my attitude over the last nine or 10 years. I gained a measure of respect for Jack. Sadly, that respect was misplaced. I wish him health and a long life, but I won't miss his work or celebrate his legacy in the booth. He was just about the bottom of the barrel. The saddest part is that he actually knew -- or seemingly learned -- better but ignored it.

Note to Self

I shared this recently on social media. I hope readers here get something from it, too.

"What is my purpose in life?" I asked the void.

"What if I told you that you fulfilled it when you took an extra hour to talk to that kid about his life?" a voice said.

"Or when you paid for that young couple in the restaurant? Or when you saved that dog in traffic? Or when you tied your father's shoes for him?"

"Your problem is that you equate success with goal-based achievement. But the Universe isn't interested in your achievements.... just your heart. When you choose to act out of kindness, compassion, and love, you are already aligned with your true purpose."


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 game.
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