When the final buzzer sounded, confetti – tons of it – poured from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. Union College had just claimed its first NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship with a 7-4 victory over Minnesota.
The Union players hugged at center ice. The Gophers hung their heads, some not moving from the bench, waiting for the formality of one of hockey’s greatest traditions: the post-game handshake.
Taking it all in from across the ice were the game’s officials.
The NCAA championship game was officiated by referees Ryan Hersey and Geoff Miller along with linesmen Tommy George and Bob Bernard. The same crew also handled the semi-final matchup between Minnesota and North Dakota.
We caught up with the Frozen Four’s 2014 Men’s Championship Game officiating crew after the 7-4 Union win.
As soon as we sat down, linesman Tommy George decided to get all the standard interview cliches out of the way:
Tommy George: I’m just happy to be here and I hope I can help the ballclub. You’ve gotta play it one day at a time. The good Lord willing, good things will happen to you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. Seriously, there’d better be a Bull Durham quote in [this interview].
Scouting the Refs: So, how was it out there?
Bob Bernard: A lot of fun. It was a pretty wild atmosphere. Probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen or been a part of. You talk about universities and college students – they wear their pride on their shirts.
Geoff Miller: Just the momentum, especially in that first period, with all the goals and everything, I’ve never really seen anything like that in a game of this magnitude.
STR: It looks like you kept a short leash on both teams, calling it tight:
GM: I think it played on edge all game. Going into it, we wanted the teams to decide it. We didn’t want to be the reason, but at the same time, you’ve gotta protect the players, you gotta protect the goalies. I think it definitely was on edge, but I think, as a crew, we stepped up and made the calls we needed to when they were there and kind of let them play at the same time.
BB: Like Geoff said, it’s for the teams, it’s their moment, we’re just out there trying to do our best. Work hard, get in the best position possible.
TG: We’re just a little piece of a big moment.
STR: What were you guys thinking as the final buzzer sounded?
GM: It felt great. Felt like we nailed the game and had a lot of fun out there. It’s just cool to see the teams coming off the bench, getting into the dogpile, the confetti coming down. It give you goosebumps”
Ryan Hersey: For us, obviously we all work hard. Everybody, to try to get to this moment, so to be a part of it and to be able to have a really good game , it feels good.
STR: This was your fourth game of the tournament together. How did it help to have worked games as a four-man unit?
TG: We all know what everybody’s going to do and where they’re going to be and where they’re looking . it’s like working with yourself. You know whats gonna happen and you’ve gotta pick the other guy up, the other guy will pick you up too.
GM: I think it’s immeasurable. I don’t think you can ever really put your finger on what exactly it is. It’s just a comfort factor.
BB: We all know where each other are. If you’re gonna get bumped, a guy’s gonna be there, like Tommy said, to make that call. Same with the referees working off one another, it just makes it so much easier and much more enjoyable.
TG: I’d step on any sheet of ice in the world with these three guys.
STR: Speaking of ‘any sheet in the world’, Tommy, you had the opportunity to work the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. How does this compare to that experience?
TG: It’s a different animal. From my perspective, that’s one pinnacle, one achievement, one accomplishment. It’s its own little season for 15 days. This one’s just special because you get to share it with guys that you work with all year. Geoff’s going to experience it here in a couple days when he goes to the [IIHF Under 18 Tournament] in Finland. This one’s just really special because you work with these guys the whole year and start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and look for the cards to fall and things to happen. To get into the tournament for us is special and then just being able to share the experience with these guys, like I said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Here’s a look back at the NCAA Men’s Championship Game
STR: The college hockey season is done. What about you guys? Are you right back to work?
RH: Wednesday night.
TG: I work [an AHL game] tomorrow in Wilkes-Barre, then Wednesday in Norfolk, and Friday in Norfolk. Geoff leaves for the Under 18s here Tuesday.
GM: Monday. I’m on a flight Monday for Finland. Quick turnaround. I fly back tomorrow, get about 24 hours at home, then head overseas.
TG: That’s the difference with college hockey. About half the guys work other leagues and [the season] ends early. At the same time, it’s good for us because you have three weeks of playoffs and then you go into the playoffs in the other leagues. So it’s game seven every night.
STR: Geoff, how do you prepare for an international tournament?
GM: You know what? The honest answer is I haven’t. I haven’t even thought about it yet, because this was such an important tournament. It’s not fair for the teams for my head to be elsewhere, so, you know, we’ll enjoy this one and I’ll start thinking about what the next chapter is tomorrow. It’s a different rulebook, so I’ll definitely have to get into that. The time change will be difficult but you know what, everyone’s doing it. I’m one of 25 [officials working the tournament]. Everyone’s in the same boat.
STR: Is it a challenge to adapt to different rulebooks between leagues?
TG: For me, you see something happen and it takes an extra second or two. There was a play the other night — the puck went over the glass and Geoff and I turn and look at each other. We’re pointing at the kid, and then we realize it’s not a line change, but there’s no penalty call. In the other leagues, it’s a penalty. Little things like that.
BB: Obviously, as part of this job, you’ve got to be mentally focused. You can’t let your guard down. You can’t take that five-second or two-second nap or you miss something. Whether it’s trying to make sure you’ve got the rules for the league you’re working that night or just being in position, you’ve got to work the full 60 minutes, both physically and mentally.
STR: What were the highlights for you from the Frozen Four?
TG: Thursday night. [Minnesota’s final-second victory over North Dakota.]
BB: When Minnesota won with 0.6 seconds to go.
TG: We had the [North Dakota-Ferris State] double-overtime game which was great. The ND-Wisconsin game was great. Then Thursday night was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever been a part of.
STR: With time running down in that game, did you think the Gophers would even have a chance at scoring?
GM: When Minnesota got the puck and started coming up ice, it was coming at me, I went to the net. I wasn’t even thinking they would have a shot, but I just wanted to be there. The guy put it on net and it was kind of like, ‘ Oh my gosh, did that happen?’ I never thought they had a chance, but that’s hockey.
Minnesota defeats North Dakota on a last-second goal
Tommy, I think Crash Davis would be proud. Obviously, you had your pen:
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