By Mark Lichtenfeld. Originally published at LetsPlayHockey.com:
With the 2015-16 hockey season ready for faceoff, OS wants to thank its loyal readers who have utilized this column as an educational tool to better understand the internal dynamics, struggles and responses to irrationality that form the integral stuff of veteran ice hockey officials everywhere.
See, that’s what this column has always been about. Some call it a laser-like megapixel focus on the veteran Level-3 hockey referee, without which the sport of amateur ice hockey would suddenly transmute into a dysfunctional exercise of organized mayhem. Yup, OS isn’t a PC “you-make-the-call” column. It’s not an emotional reminiscence of “my inspiration to be an ice hockey official” slop. No, it’s a controlled, hard-hitting journalistic exercise specifically calculated to enlighten the garden variety player or parent who probably doesn’t realize that most of their respective hockey knowledge was a biased product of hand-me-down Dale Tallon/Phil Esposito-style color commentary from the good old days of Sportsvision and WOR.
OS takes all inquiries. That’s because officials always take the brunt of complaints, protests and general bellyaching. No matter what happens, it’s “the refs’ fault.” It’s crazy. Insane. You don’t hear this kind of whining about circuit court judges or DMV test instructors. Yet there’s something about hockey officiating that brings out an open season on American zebras. Coaches, managers, associations, rink managers and national bodies seem to enjoy beating up on guys that love officiating because they still enjoy the game. (In fact, as I’m writing this very column I just got a text from a fifth-year Level 3 complaining about the incomprehensible wording of one of the open-book test questions).
Yeah, the test. Look, we’re in the throes of registration season right now and my in-box is overflowing with complaints from veteran officials who don’t like having their time increasingly usurped by a national organization that refers to its zebras as “independent contractors.”
I get it. I mean, it’s not like all us hockey brethren could have been as fortunate as me, when an unexpected slowdown at the office presented me with a clear, eight-hour window, which I immediately utilized to complete my “mandatory online video course,” taking over five hours in the process, but hey, that’s what our Colorado insurance – errr – hockey headquarters demands. Oh, and add in another 90 minutes to take the online open book test, which though refreshingly updated and concise, still padded my referee certification time to seven hours at the office. But I guess I should be grateful because, well, I am an independent contractor, which means I have control over my destiny and didn’t HAVE to expend all those company hours on certification. Right?
Now, consider the poor, non-unionized bus driver who doesn’t get to complete his stuff “on the road.” Yup, Level 3 Gus comes home after a stretch of a half-dozen pot-holed Main Street runs and can’t even kick back on the La-Z-Boy with his Green Acres and Three Stooges re-runs because he’s got seven hours of “independent contractor time” to complete. Come to think of it, that seven hours represented graduate-education time, which means our GED guy’s probably staring at 10 hours of “independent contractor” requirements, simply for the privilege of officiating the Thanksgiving Mite house tournament.
Oh, all this, plus another eight hours at the mandatory seminar on Packers-Bears day. See why the inbox is stuffed this time of year?
But wait. One of those e-mails wasn’t from another disgruntled official. Actually, it was sent by Colorado Springs. It was a classy letter, reminding us referees that we must set the standard in total professionalism. Yes, from lobby, locker and the lines, we independent contractors are representing the best of the game.
Fair enough. Thing is, not a single referee starts the season with a chip on his or her shoulder. None of us veterans go out there looking to bait the manager or toss Uncle Morrie out of the building. Yet we take the heat every time some wise-guy coach puts on his opening-game tirade like he’s auditioning for the lounge act at the Golden Nugget.
And let’s not forget our 21st century parenting role models. You know, those big-mouths cursing out the officials on every close call at the blue line. Yeah, they brumate like tortoises all summer, itching to strut their oral trash to the captive audience in the rusted-out bleachers. Reminds me of that early-season high school game at my home rink nearly a decade ago when I’m walking from the parking lot on a beeline to the dressing room and as I pass the crowd in the lobby, some buffoon makes eye contact with me, then grunts to the parent next to him that “it’s not gonna be pretty.”
And this guy was MY NEIGHBOR DOWN THE STREET.
Classic. Total disrespect to the refs. To the game. To his kid.
Every year, USA Hockey touts its “Code of Conduct” and “Zero Tolerance Policy” to rectify these types of scenarios. In fact, the initial pages of the rulebook contain these provisions in an attempt to set the standard right from the start. It’s a great way to preempt irrational behavior and we officials appreciate it. Still, after a quarter-century of consultations and observations, I’d like to add some further mandates which would assist in breeding all-around respect:
- Start the warm-up on time. That means, scorekeepers and teams should be taking the ice as scheduled. (Got that, adult leagues?).
- Do not show up with similar-colored jerseys. Figure it out ahead of time, and have home and away jerseys just in case.
- Associations must work with their home rinks to provide a reasonable, sanitary changing area for the officials. No better way to show disrespect to a crew then having six guys in a dressing room built for three. It matters.
- Get rid of online performance committees, evaluations and other forms of organized grievances against officials. Legitimate complaints and/or a continuing pattern of misconduct can be addressed accordingly. After a few bad games, everyone knows who the ineffective zebras are. But all these single-instance parental and coaching beefs, usually over a subjective call, are simply ways to harass officials without any form of fees or costs assessed against the complaining party when it’s found that the allegation was unwarranted.
See, professionalism works in many ways. It’s not just applicable to officials. We don’t come to the rink looking for trouble. We simply ask to be treated with courtesy.
So on behalf of all veteran Level 3s, this column again urges those in the hockey community, including national associations, to govern themselves with the utmost respect as we commence the upcoming season. If zero tolerance, codes of conduct and the rest of these simple recommendations could possibly be implemented, grievances versus officials will be markedly reduced.
Which proves that we don’t go out there with chips on our shoulders, so neither should the rest of the hockey community.
I mean, we independent contractors have our codes of conduct, too.
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Officially Speaking is originally published at LetsPlayHockey.com –
The online home of the longest-running hockey newspaper in the United States.
Reprinted with permission.