With Rogers announcing their use of new referee and bench-mounted-cameras in their online feeds, the NHL and its broadcasters are quickly moving to get fans as close to the ice as possible. One of the best points-of-view comes from the on-ice officials.
The Ottawa Senators strapped a camera to referee Tom Sweeney for their Fan Fest scrimmage on September 29. We spoke with Tom, as well as linesman Scott Wilson on their experiences working a game with the ref-cam.
Sweeney, an Ottawa native, is an OHL referee who also covers University and Junior hockey. He’s been officiating for 16 years. Linesman Scott Wilson hails from just outside Ottawa. He’s an OHL linesman with five years of experience and a dream of working in the NHL. He works University games, and has suited up for a WU17 tournament in Winnipeg as well as an NHL Rookie Tournament in Oshawa. Both officials have taken the ice for the Senators’ scrimmages for the past few seasons.
Suiting Up with a Ref-Cam
This was not Sweeney’s first time getting wired for video.
“We had worn a camera at the Sens rookie camp back in June so this was something we had done before,” he said. “The Sens TV manager had come in to the room before the game to let us know he wanted to do this again so we were expecting it come puck drop. I think we had all forgotten about it heading to the ice and as we were getting ready to drop the puck I noticed him and skated over to put the camera on. It all came together at the last minute.”
While the look of the camera – especially chest-mounted instead of on the helmet – may have been a bit unorthodox, its presence never factored into the action on the ice. “I thought [Sweeney] looked a little silly with it being a chest-mounted cam rather than on a helmet,” said Wilson, who wasn’t distracted by the camera’s presence. “I take my job seriously,” he said, “and it’s important – for every game and for every team – for me to be as fair and accurate as possible.”
“[Wearing the camera] didn’t change anything about the way we worked the game,” said Sweeney. “We still had the same conversations amongst the crew and with the players. It’s another avenue for the [Sens] to connect with their fans, so we were happy to help.”
“I thought it was a great opportunity for people to see another perspective of the game,” added Wilson.
Ref-Cams as a Development Tool
The NHL used referee cams during the preseason as a training tool for officials. Both Sweeney and Wilson see the value in using ref-cams to identify and address training opportunities, or to provide game-situation examples of rule enforcement.
“I think the use of a camera would definitely be helpful in self evaluation or feedback after the game,” said Sweeney. “It would give you a second look at some decision you made on the ice and would help highlight some positive or negative sight lines you have in that particular game. Its always useful to be able to view a clip or some video when discussing with an officiating manager a particular call, play or scenario.”
Expanding Video Review
While referee cameras are currently being used for entertainment and training purposes, there’s also the possibility that their unique angles will be used for video reviews. The NHL has already taken steps to expand the scope of plays eligible for video review, including monitoring – but not ruling on – goals affected by offsides or goaltender interference. Additional cameras give the league more angles to use, but there’s debate on how far they should go with what should be up for video review.
“Everyone wants to get the call right on the ice and anything that can be done to assist with that goal is a good idea in my opinion,” said Sweeney. “I think in some situations replay and reviews can be helpful in giving the crew a different perspective or angle to make the right call. I think the tough part of bringing in video review is you still want to respect the judgement of each official and their feel for the game which doesn’t always come through on the video screen.”
Wilson worries that expanding replay will slow the game down, with more time reviewing plays during stoppages. With the NHL’s rule changes to hurry up faceoffs, they’ve shown that they’re looking speed up the game and avoid changes that would slow things down.
“I think where replay is now is where it should probably stay,” he said. “In my opinion, if you add more (reviews) it will slow the game down. Part of what makes hockey so exciting is how fast-paced it is.”
Here’s the game, seen through the eyes of referee Tom Sweeney:
Both officials are back to working OHL and University events, but they appreciate the opportunity to work the Senators’ scrimmages. “It’s always a good opportunity to get on the ice with the best players in the world and see what areas of my skill set I can improve on and see plays happen on the ice at [an NHL] pace,” said Wilson.
It’s that pace that the NHL needs to sell. Using a ref cam bring fans closer to the action. It gives fans a new set of viewing angles and a closer, faster view that really makes you appreciate the speed of the game. We can only hope to see more from the ref’s-eye-view — or ref’s chest, in this case — in the future.