Referees are a tough bunch.  They put up with errant sticks, deflected pucks, and the occasional inadvertent body check along the boards (all usually accompanied by raucous applause from the fans).

Veteran Dan O’Rourke was injured during the first period of last week’s game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers. The official collided with Blue Jackets forward Corey Tropp behind the Columbus net. As both fell to the ice, Tropp’s skate came up, hitting O’Rourke squarely in the chest. O’Rourke did not return to the game.

Darcy Burchell, working just his tenth game of the season (and 11th of his NHL officiating career), finished the game as the lone referee. Bryan Pancich and Darren Gibbs were the linesmen.

Burchell called seven penalties over the remainder of the game – 3 on the Flyers, 4 against Columbus – along with handing out a pair of fighting majors.

Over at HockeyBuzz, former NHL official Paul Stewart pitched a solid idea for handling situations like this in the future:

Rather than having Burchell work with two linesmen, I think that senior linesman Gibbs, who has been in the League since 1997 and is creeping up on the coveted 1,000-game mark, should have served as the second referee with Pancich working the lines.

I am a believer in referees and linesmen being able to switch roles when necessary. During my own officiating career, I filled in for injured linesmen on an emergency basis more than once — including in a 1997 Stanley Cup playoff game between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia when Wayne Bonney suffered a leg injury in the second period.

Likewise, a linesmen should be able to function as a “referee-in-training” when an extra set of legs and eyes are needed. The situation in Columbus last Saturday was a perfect case in point. Gibbs is capable of being a referee in a pinch, and it would have been more beneficial to the flow of the game (apart from making the night a little easier on Burchell) if the protocol had been to function as a two-ref, one-linesman team after O’Rourke was lost for the game.

O’Rourke was okay after the game.  He didn’t miss any time.  The veteran was back on the ice for Lightning/Panthers two days later.