On Tuesday April 28, 2014, the Idaho Steelheads defeated the Colorado Eagles 3-2 in the longest game in ECHL history. The four-overtime epic – 137:18 of game play – spanned over 5 1/2 hours from start to finish. Referee Stephen Reneau spoke with us about his career and about the four-overtime experience.
Scouting The Refs: What was it like to work the longest game in ECHL history?
Reneau: It was exciting, that’s for sure. Obviously, we were just trying to make sure that we were on the goal line for any possible scoring opportunities and making sure we were staying focused with the pure exhaustion that we were all feeling.”
STR: How did you fight off the fatigue of working the equivalent of over two games?
Reneau: A lot of Gatorade and being prepared from staying in the gym all season. That’s the only way that I can say that we were able to do it.
STR: What was the tone like on the ice?
Reneau: Early on in the game, both teams were a little fiesty but the players really responded, the coaches really responded. They all wanted to play hockey and not mess around, which is very nice.
STR: Do you call the game differently in overtime — especially a multiple overtime game?
Reneau: Yes. Obviously you want the players to decide the outcome of the game so unless it was a very violent or flagrant foul my arm was not going up in the air.
STR: Especially in a one-referee system, that’s a lot of area to cover. How was it to stay on top of the play?
Reneau: The first and second [overtimes] were fine. I could really start to feel it in my legs in the third and the fourth [OT]. But the pace of play really slowed down tremendously, so it wasn’t too bad to keep up. [Both teams were] putting the puck into open spaces and watching guys skate into them versus skating all the way up the ice. There was a lot more passing in the overtimes than in the actual game.
STR: The linesmen for the game were Scott DeBaugh and Andrew Wetzel. What were you and the officiating crew thinking as the game went on into multiple overtimes?
Reneau: Just let it be a good goal. We obviously didn’t want any controversy or to have any issues with that, so I was just praying that it was a good clean goal and that the entire building would know that it went in.
STR: Was this the longest game you’d ever worked?
Reneau: Oh, absolutely. I think the longest I’d ever gone was two overtimes and that was last year in the USHL.
Reneau is in his first season with the ECHL. He spent last season primarily officiating in the USHL and the SPHL (Southern Professional Hockey League). He was one of four referees chosen to work the 2013 Clark Cup Finals, the USHL’s Championship Series.
STR: What was it like to transition from the USHL/SPHL to the ECHL?
Reneau: I won’t say it was an easy transition, because nothing from junior hockey to pro hockey is ever easy, but it’s a lot different dealing with professionals. Dealing with 18 and 19-year-old kids, no matter what you say or do, you’re never going to be right in their minds. I like [the ECHL] a lot. I like the pro style a lot better and I feel like I fit well into professional-style hockey. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be transitioning.
STR: Would you say there’s more respect in professional hockey than junior?
Reneau: Correct. I couldn’t agree more.
STR: Did you have any issues adjusting with a change in rules or in the pace of the game?
Reneau: [The ECHL] uses the same rule book, so there were no issues, just minor little details. It definitely took a couple of weeks to get adjusted to the pace of play in the ECHL versus the USHL, but I figured it out.
STR: You also had the opportunity to officiate the 2013 Traverse City Tournament, an annual prospect event which featured NHLers Matthew Dumba (Minnesota Wild), Boone Jenner (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes), Ryan Murray (Columbus Blue Jackets), and Valeri Nichuskin (Dallas Stars). What was that experience like?
Reneau: That was a huge eye opener. The skill level of hockey there was unbelieveable and just being out there with the guys – NHL players – it was just amazing. For a guy just getting his start in professional hockey, I was very surprised to get that assignment. The first tournament game, I’m sure my eyes were as big as my head. It was a lot of fun.
STR: You were also there for one of the great minor league hockey traditions – the Teddy Bear Toss with the Florida Everblades.
Reneau: That was cool. I’d never done a Teddy Bear Toss. Some of the ones in Green Bay [Home of the USHL’s Gamblers], I think they set a couple of records there for the teddy bears they had. It was very cool to finally get to do one. The players all were helping out and so were we. It was a very cool experience.
STR: Obviously, the footprint of the ECHL is much larger than that of the USHL or SPHL. What’s travel like for you this season?
Reneau: I get to fly a lot, which is nice. Last year, I pretty much drove to every game. Instead of sitting in my car, listening to the radio, I’m sitting in airplanes or airports. It’s quite a bit different. Joe [Ernst, ECHL Vice President of Operations] takes very good care of us and does all of our flights and everything, so it’s very easy on our part.
STR: The ECHL has some veteran officials with plenty of international experience. Have you been able to learn anything from them?
Reneau: As a referee, I travel alone, so I don’t get to see many of the referees in the league. I mainly just see the linesmen. If I come into a town, another guy’s leaving, so we never really get to hang out that much. You watch games as much as you can, and via text or whatever, you go over things — ‘Hey, what do you think about this’, or ‘How could I have handled this differently.’ There’s always communication behind the scenes, not just in the buildings whenever we’re working.
STR: How did you get your start in officiating?
Reneau: It’s actually a funny story. I used to run a rink back in Kansas City – I was the assistant manager there. I ran the men’s league and one night a referee didn’t show up for a game. Now I’ve been around the game my whole life, I know the rules in and out, so I went out to referee the game and kind of fell in love with it. After that, I happened to be working a midget game and a district referee who was a chief for the Central District, he happened to be coming to our arena that day. He saw me and asked me what I was doing with officiating. At that point, I was just trying to make a little extra money. He offered me a spot to go to Western Regional Camp. At that point, I got hired on for the Junior Development Program there. So, kind of a weird situation but right place, right time I guess.
STR: Looking back, did you imagine you’d end up here, not only refereeing the playoffs in your first ECHL season, but working the longest playoff game in league history?
Reneau: When I started the year as a rookie, I really didn’t know what to expect and how my game assignments were going to go once the playoffs started. From what I can tell, I guess I’m holding my own okay out there. It’s been a wild ride, that’s for sure.
We can only hope Stephen Reneau’s wild ride continues all the way to the NHL.
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