Guest post from OMHA veteran referee Mike Stauffer:
In the almost 20 years of being a hockey referee, the comment that I heard most often from others when they found out I was a ref was, “I don’t know how you do it!”.
The reply was always the same, “I do it because I enjoy it. When I no longer enjoy going to the rink to ref a game, that is when I will stop.” This was the one thing I always said to myself. If I was no longer enjoying going to the rink, if I stopped skating, and I did not miss it, then it was time to hang ’em up. Well, that time came, and I stayed true to myself. I decided it was time to pack it in. Not only was it fair to myself, but it was fair to the players on the ice as well. I was never in it for the money. I was never in it for a career. I was there because I enjoyed it! If I was not going to enjoy being out on the ice, then I was likely not going to do the best job I was capable of doing.
Over the years, the one thing that I always said to my fellow officials on the ice – the last thing I said before the drop of the puck – was “have fun”.
It was always just a little reminder that while we were there to do a job, the best job we could, we were also there because it was fun. We were there because we enjoyed being out there on the ice, wearing the stripes. It was fun.
Those two words – have fun – two words that I think most adults have forgotten. This great sport is supposed to be fun for all of those involved. From the players, coaches, and referees to the kid running the clock in the penalty box. Even the parents should go the rink to have fun. To watch their kids play a sport they love and have fun while they are doing it. Having fun is what it is all about. If an adult’s version of having fun is to go to the rink and berate a 16-year-old kid wearing the stripes because they feel that they missed a trip, or called a penalty they thought was weak, then that adult has lost all perspective on life. For some reason, adults feel they are allowed to lose their minds once they walk into an arena. They will say they are “passionate” about the game, that they just get too involved in the game, or any other excuse they can think of to justify their behavior. I only wish that some of these so-called grownups could see themselves and how they behave in a rink. I think they would be embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not painting everyone with the same brush. I have lots of respect for a lot of coaches and parents. But the saying goes, the few ruin it for the many.
I have been witness to some fantastic moments in hockey rinks, and some absolutely ridiculous moments. Each of the fantastic moments I have witnessed occurred on the ice involving kids. I would say about 99% of the ridiculous moments occurred off the ice, in the stands or on the bench, from people that should know better: the adults that are supposed to be there to set an example for the kids, and teach what is right from wrong. Fights in the stands, throwing things on the ice, racial slurs to name a few. I even know of an incident where a Mom walked on the ice at the end of a game, flashed the refs, and yelled “Suck my … (Use your imagination)”! I recall during an Atom game, while a Father was losing his mind over a roughing call, during a stoppage of play – swearing, grabbing his crotch, unzipping his fly — real class act this guy was — all with little kids around. As this is going on, the guy’s kid skates up to me, taps me on the arm and says, and I quote, “Sorry about that ref, my Dad’s an idiot!” I just looked at the kid, and said, “You worry about playing hockey, I will worry about your Dad”. The 10-year-old kid just looked at me, said, “Thanks Ref”, and skated away. I will never forget that! I remember thinking to myself, how often does this happen, that a 10-year-old knows to apologize for his parent?
First and foremost, do referees make mistakes? Absolutely! Who doesn’t?
Do referees miss calls? Of course they do! No one is perfect!
Do refs have good games and bad games? Yes they do.
Just like players, referees are human. There is not a single person on this green earth that goes through every single day in life without making a mistake. If you think you do, then I feel sorry for you. A ref goes out on the ice with a goal to do the best job they can do for that game. I have never known a ref to show up at the rink with the thought in mind of going out on the ice, to call the game in favour of one team over the other. At times, other issues going on in that individual’s life will impact their ability, the job they do for that game. It happens; it’s called human nature. There were games I apologized to both benches because I was struggling and not at my best on that given night. More than once, after calling a rather soft penalty, did I after the team killed it off, make a comment to a coach, “Was that ever a brutal penalty call!”. Always caught coaches off guard with that one, but it made them realize that I was aware I made a mistake!
What people in the stands fail to understand is that the referee is trying to watch all 12 players on the ice at the same time and make a split decision in half a second. Minor hockey officials do not have the luxury to go upstairs for the review! It is all about angles and viewpoints. Two people on opposite sides of the rink have different viewpoints and perspective of the same play. To one person, a play may look innocent and no big deal, while another person from an opposite perspective will see the exact same play and scream for a penalty to be called. I cannot count how many times over the years I have said to a coach, “Coach, I am not saying you are wrong, but from my perspective, this is what I saw. You may have had a better angle than I did, but from my point of view this is what I saw.” Not everything is black and white.
The other thing most people don’t think about is how much easier it is to view a hockey game standing in the same position, from an elevated view, without having to worry about moving your feet, looking through players, around players, around the net, getting out of the way of players, the puck, the boards… A bird’s-eye-view is much easier to see things in the peripheral, or the bigger picture. There is another thing I don’t think parents understand. A ref must “see” the penalty, to “call” the penalty. A number of times, a ref “knows” what has happened in a situation, but if the ref did not “see” what happened, they cannot call a penalty on the play. Numerous times, I would “hear” a slash, but could not “call” the slash, because I did not “see” the slash.
I can recall a number of situations where I would get mad at myself because I knew what happened to a player, but could not call a penalty because I did not see it. One of those was during a Midget game. As the play moved into Team A’s end, four players came together and started to get pretty rough, which led into a fight. As I turned to see what was happening in this scrum, a player from Team B slew footed a player from Team A at centre ice. What made me turn my attention was the loud “SMACK” of the player’s helmet bouncing off the ice. As I looked back, I have one player motionless on the ice, with another player about ten feet away skating to the bench. I did not “see” what happened, but I “knew” what happened, but could not call a penalty. There is no worse feeling than knowing you missed an impactful penalty, especially when a kid gets hurt as a result.
Over the years, myself and other refs have heard them all. The great one-liners that parents and coaches come up with to give their opinion on the job you did in a game. Even the players now, beginning in Novice, will not hesitate to give you their opinion. There is nothing better than having a 9-year-old call you every name in the book, dropping a few F-bombs along the way. It makes you wonder at times. How many times was I told, “I didn’t mean to”, or “He stepped on my stick”, “I can’t believe you’re calling that?”, or one of my favourites, “He would never say that!” Hate to break it to you coach, but the kid is not that innocent!
Then there is the ever popular, favourite line that every ref has heard. The one that makes every ref want to scream out, “Are you kidding me?” If you’re a hockey ref, you know the line I am referring to. The ever popular – “GET OUT OF THE WAY REF!” This always comes after the ref has just taken a slap shot in the back from a kid trying to clear the puck with his head down. Like it’s our fault. Because it is always fun — in fact, it tickles — to get plugged by the puck always in the areas where you don’t have any protective gear! Again, I don’t mean to paint everyone with the same brush. Some players will come and apologize, and truly mean it. Others just laugh, go to the bench, and brag to their teammates about hitting the ref!
I used to always think to myself, when a 10-year-old cursed me out, “My old man would have killed me if I spoke to a ref like that!” Well, nowadays this is the norm. Hate to say it, but it’s true. The lack of respect in society today, is going to be the downfall of kids’ sports. More and more officials in all sports are going to quit, because it’s not worth the hassle, the aggravation, or the grief that they each get. It is tough for a 15, 16, or 17-year-old kid to stand up to an adult and tell them they are wrong or to eject them from a game. I have heard parents threaten kids because of a penalty they have called or a goal they disallowed. We all hear stories about young kids quitting because of being threatened by an adult or called out to a parking lot. More than once has a young official been chased into the ref room by an irate parent or coach. I’ve been there!
I could go on. I could write a book about things I have been witness to in the rink, both on and off the ice, both good and bad. It’s a game, people. We all need to relax. Enjoy it for what it is worth. A game! A kids game! For the kids! So let the kids enjoy it!
Mike Stauffer has refereed for 18 years. He is currently a Level 4 with the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.
Featured image via Laurent Silvani